I’ve always had it good where I work. My first job was life guarding at the country club across the highway from my house, and it took me all of one summer to earn a promotion and a head guard spot. For the next five years I pretty much coasted up the corporate club pool ladder, earning a little more money and a little better title each year. As expected, it all went immediately to my head. I was given marginal responsibility over the other staff around me and I used that opportunity to swiftly misdirect my self esteem insecurities on them through unnecessary and vitriolic management. I dealt heavily in nepotism, fired people on a whim, and supped after the club management worse than an elementary teacher’s pet.
Things didn’t get better when I got to college. I started working at a golf course and once again before long I’d been moved inside to oversee the register and the cart staff. I went right back to abusing the position, and continued to do so as I moved from shopkeeper, to assistant pro, to head pro. The year I spent as the head pro of the course is a year to be remembered as full of verbal disparagement of my employees, manipulation of the roles of responsibility to benefit me the best way possible, and near total neglect of all but the most immediate and easiest of my responsibilities. Looking back on it it’s easy to see why I got replaced after a year under the guise of “wanting to go with someone more full time.” When it happened I was wounded both professionally and personally. I’d never experienced reprimand at my job before, I didn’t know how to take it.
Thankfully, the person who would succeed me would prove to be my biggest mentor thus far. His management style was one of genuine and honest supervision of his employees through direct interaction and empathetic work. He never raised his voice to any of his staff, and from the moment he came on he made it clear that his loyalty was to those he worked with. He never shirked a task, and consistently set a standard through providing an example everyone could live by. The list of employees he still calls on, and who still call on him, reads like a town census. His sincere care for his staff, his insistence on doing things right, on always holding yourself to a higher standard than those below you, on recognizing the good in people and doing what you can to nourish and grow that potential provided me with more job knowledge than anywhere I’ve ever worked. His is a tutelage I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay, and its timing could not have been more serendipitous.
I’ve tried to carry that wisdom into my current job. I’ve taken his lesson that it’s still possible to motivate people without money. You can inspire a person to work for you if you show them you recognize and appreciate their work, and are willing to assist them and accompany them in the task at hand. I realized through his caring yet aloof approach to interacting with his subordinates that while you want your staff to know you care, that you see them for their individuality and not their spot on the payroll, you don’t need to try to become their best friend to do that, and that in the long run you probably shouldn’t become their friend because there’s going to come a time when you have to correct them, sometimes to the point of termination, and no one wants to hear their friend tell them they’re fired.
I learned from him that while you have to recognize and follow the goals set by your superior, by your ownership, your loyalty should still lie to those you employ, because at the end of the day it won’t be the owner who was there with you every morning working to achieve those goals. Because of him I understood it’s the people at the bottom who make the business physically operate each day, and that not only are they aware of that but whether or not they see your awareness of it will be what makes or breaks your company’s operation.
It’s because of his guidance that I’ve been able to, for the first time, cultivate a healthy relationship with the staff I supervise. It’s thanks to that education that I know the best thing you can do when something is wrong is meet the bus head on, trying to duck out of the way while grabbing one of your subordinates to take your place will only poison the way they look at you. Be first in the line of fire and you’ll inspire them to hold themselves a little better as well.
It’s also through his tutelage I learned the importance of thanking people for their efforts and acknowledging their necessity in the company. One of the worst feelings is being made to believe you are a cog, a nameless automaton whose sole identity is your position. Acknowledge the uniqueness people bring to a company, and thank them when that uniqueness produces productive effort. It’s not an ideal replacement for financial compensation, but it is a good way to let someone know some part of the universe is grateful for what they do.
I know I’ve still got a lot of learning to do. I still make mistakes, I get too confrontational at times and then the next day put off addressing staff issues because I want to avoid the ugliness of the conversation. But I’m grateful for what I’ve learned. I’m grateful I’ve been able to take the lessons I received and apply them to a new company and watch them succeed. I don’t think I’ll ever have a better teacher of management, but hopefully I can keep growing and learning what it takes to really run people.
If you have any management tips of your own you’d like to share please hit me with them in the comments, or on my social media. If this post made it seem like my managerial position is just financially lowly enough as to earn a pity tip, try the link below.