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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Bagging Groceries Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Being an Executive Part 14

Relationships matter in business

“What I value most in my friends is loyalty.” David Mamet

“What is a disloyal act? A person is disloyal if he treats you as a stranger when, in fact, he belongs to you as a friend or partner. Each of us is bound to some special others by the invisible fibers of loyalty.” Lewis B. Smedes

Lesson 14. Relationships matter. Issues come and go, but everyone needs a core of people that they trust and rely on when things go badly. And eventually things always go badly...

My first “real” job was at Piggly Wiggly Southern®, a grocery store chain that was primarily based in Georgia in the early 80’s. This is the fourteenth in a series of posts describing the Executive Leadership lessons I learned in that first job.

Everyone needs someone who will believe in them when things are going badly. Bad things happen to good people, and all of us will find ourselves in a situation where dark clouds are over our head and the rain is pouring down. When it is raining hardest, we all need someone who knows and trusts us. Someone who is willing to help deflect the rain.

I am not talking about looking the other way when someone commits a crime or evil act. But how many times are things that clearly delineated in the business world ? Isn’t the more common presentation that someone appears to have exercised poor judgement and now the wolves are howling at the door demanding their pound of flesh?

And don’t the wolves always show up when someone is going through a bad time?

What will you do when a friend is having a bad time? Will you wrap yourself in the whatever corporate flag is being used and forget they are your friend? Will you tell them that "It's not personal, just business" and that "you have to do what you have to do"? Or will you remember that they are a good person with a long history and maybe there is another side to the story?

Piggly Wiggly examples.

A newly promoted and promising young employee was caught making disparaging comments about a senior manager. Rather than make an example of him, the manager handled the issue discretely and in a way that saved the employees reputation.

An Assistant Produce Manager was going through a terrible divorce and showed up to work obviously intoxicated. The manager pulled him off the floor and took him outside to the loading dock where he cried in the managers arms and explained what was going on. The manager donated her personal vacation time and told him to work things out.

A longtime employee was going through a bad divorce and got kicked out of his home. When the Stock Manager showed up to open the store, he noticed that the employee was sleeping in their car in the parking lot. When the Stock Manager realized what was going on, he let the employee sleep on his sofa until he found a place to stay.

A good friend approached a store manager about his daughter’s husband. He was working through some rather serious legal issues and needed a job. Because his friend asked him, he hired the gentlemen sight unseen and he became one of his best employees.

I could go on.

There was a code at Piggly Wiggly. You were family! You could make mistakes, screw up your personal life and do the dumb things that human beings do! But you were family, and they took care of their own.

Until they went out of business, but that is a story for another day.

Do you work in organization where you feel safe? Or do you feel you are one bureaucratic misstep away from having the organization turn on you? And if that happened, is there someone who would be that sweet voice of reason representing your interest?


This is a continuation of a theme in my last post. Organizations are increasingly complex, and as they become more complex it is important that executives and managers remember that actual human beings are responsible for their success! Human beings who have problems at home, worry about finances and have aspirations beyond the workplace. You need to be supportive and protective of your team, and they will be supportive and protective of you.


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