Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Trash Run

I had a facinating self awareness experience yesterday morning. I arrived to work, and as I walked up to the front door, I notice a trash can was overflowing. Of course, an overflowing trash can speaks volumes to your customers about you and your business. I also rarely encounter this issue, so I knew my team might have had a momentary lapse in upkeeping.
After checking in with the supervisor, I informed her if it wasn't a hassle to her shift, I wanted to start by cleaning up the trash. She apologized about it and said that it wouldn't be an issue.
As I put gloves on, I went about the ugly task of emptying out the trash can (which it always surprises me why people put more trash in a can that is obviously full---another human metaphor, for another time).
One of my regular customers saw me, greeted me and said "Don't you have people that do this for you?". We both had a good laugh and we went on with our day.
It struck me as odd, that this seems to be the default thought for people. I have encountered this before with such phases as:

"Why are you doing the grunt work?"
"It's good to see a manager do the dirty work for once"
"Don't you have more important things to do? You're the manager"

What does that mean about the American business culture? Have we pushed managers up the ladder, and not leaders? Why is it odd that I do the work I expect my team to perform?
Are people so jaded about their superiors, that they might take a small pleasure in seeing them do 'grunt' work. If you follow popular TV, it would appear so with shows like "Undercover Boss"---teaching bosses about their own companies and how they treat their own employees.

I have always led with my heart. Stephen R. Covey put it best when he said, "The ''Inside-Out'' approach... to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self / with your paradigms, your character, and your motives. The inside-out approach says that private victories precede public victories, that making and keeping promises to ourselves recedes making and keeping promises to others. It says it is futile to put personality ahead of character, to try to improve relationships with others before improving ourselves". No matter how many times I tried to test this I have failed. Humans are far more intelligent than we think. If there is a duality about you, people feel it and consciously or unconsciously will work against it.

For a third of my life I have worked retail business. Often, the starting point for many American workers. What sort of example do we give these first time workers? Do they leave their first jobs disenchanted or cynical? Is this where the deep rooted entitlement paradigm comes from? Feeling half empty, when the boss taxes them too much? How does this affect them later in other business sectors? Do they and you carry the weight and paradigms of your past experience? Perphas imposing heavy taxes on any boss you encounter? Finally, do we let these experiences become our reality, born out of frustrations on TV with out of touched bosses such as Michael Scott, brilliantly portrayed by Steve Carell. Does it sink into our culture around happy hour discussions, dinner table and social gatherings? Even more important, What are we going to do about it?
I have to place the first move on this board to the managers, supervisors and executives. This bold move must come from them first, to restore lost trust and build an experience that inspires a good work ethic. It also begins at home. Holding family accountable, and setting the example and expectation at a young age. As a parent first teaches children about trust, so must our leadership first be trustworthy.

Of course, managers have other tasks and responsibilities to perform, but the dividends from being in the frontlines as a leader pay out time and time again. You see those examples too, just see the leadership of the Churchills, Lincolns, and other leaders who hold the camaraderie of their followers close to them.

I am nowhere near their status, but taking out the trash brings me back to my roots, keeps me humble, and maybe sets a positive expectation to a future leader.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone 3G S

1 comment:

  1. I think a lot gets lost in the transition from a small operation to a large one. I worked for my dad for nearly ten years. He did it all, from basic clerk duties (like taking out the trash) to going to the huge video conventions in Vegas (back in the heyday of VHS). Sure he had good days and bad, but he tried to treat all his employees equally (especially me, when I screwed up, he made sure I knew).

    It was a big shock to me to go into a large corporation and see how little managers actually do, or how disconnected they are from the daily operations going on around them. This is often encouraged by upper management. They are supposed to be BIG PICTURE people. But I always argue that you can't know the big picture without understanding the detail.

    I've seen time and again, middle managers hired in from other companies. They slide right in, and learn as little as they can about the operations they are supposed to be managing. They have people to know the details. They just call them up, like a TV's Frank to their Dr. Forrester. The managers who I felt were the most successful, spent the time to understand the operations in their care, and used that knowledge to guide the team under them.

    Because that is the key - we are a team. That includes the manager. All members of the team need to be ready to tackle any role at any time. If that means the manager has to pick up trash, so be it.