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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Bagging Groceries Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Being an Executive Part 15

Being happy at work is important!

“Common sense is not so common.” Voltaire

“Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.” Colin Powell

Lesson 15. Don’t let your ego overrule your common sense.

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 fifteenth in a series of posts describing the Executive Leadership lessons I learned in that first job.

My favorite job at Piggly Wiggly was Perishables Manager. I was responsible for all the frozen and refrigerated food in the store, and this was a solitary job where I was completely on my own. The frozen food and refrigerated trucks arrived at a regularly scheduled times, and I would unload them and stock the shelves. I would then neatly store what was left either in the large walk in freezer or cooler in the back room of the store. I made my own schedule, ordered my own inventory and stocked using a First In, First Out method to reduce loss due to products going out of date.

I loved this job! I was essentially an independent contractor. I worked when I needed to and my performance was determined through a suite of quantitative measures (profit margin, loss due to out of date inventory, inventory levels) and qualitative measures (appearance, stock level). Give me a job, hold me accountable and leave me alone.

By this time, I realized that I needed to go to college. I know that many of you may find that an odd decision to even make. Of course you should go to college! While my parents were very encouraging, I would be the first one in my family to go to college. This meant I had to navigate the process on my own. I enrolled in the fall semester at my local community college.

It was the perfect arrangement as I was able to attend college full time and work full time! It was the best of both worlds. Because I made my own schedule, I could pick the classes that I needed and ensure in advance that there would be no conflict with work. After one semester I found myself on the Dean’s List with a 4.0 GPA.

One day the Assistant Store Manager approached me about a promotion to Assistant Produce Manager in a different store. She assured me that the company would work around my college schedule and that they really wanted me to take the job. They were impressed with my work ethic! They loved my management potential! I had awesome judgement! And on and on...

Has anyone ever worked you like that? I bet they have!

I was flattered by all the attention. I told them I would think about it and let them know.

I knew that taking the job was a mistake. The pay was not dramatically better and the new store’s location would make my commute from home and school more difficult. Furthermore, while I had their commitment to work around my school schedule, I would no longer be in complete control of my schedule and would be at the mercy of another manager. Logically looking at the fact pattern, it made no sense at all to take the new job.

So I took it!

Why? Because they appealed to my ego! The ego is a powerful and terrible thing if not properly harnessed. It can be your worst enemy if not kept in check. Your ego will cause you to take terrible assignments, spend months in hotels away from your family and accept jobs that have a dramatically negative impact on your personal life.

But I learned this after I accepted this particular "opportunity".

Years later I was a candidate in an organization’s “executive development” program, and as such I was assigned a seasoned executive as a mentor. He and I were discussing my first potential executive assignment. I was impressed at how he kept focusing on various jobs potential impact on me as a person rather than on the career progression that I was focused on. He told me that I always needed to keep my personal and family needs first. “Don’t let your ego overrule your common sense” was a phrase he used many times as we discussed jobs.

I let my ego overrun my common sense when I accepted the Assistant Produce Manager at Piggly Wiggly. Ultimately it worked out, but my ego driven choice made my life much harder than it had to be.

When confronted with an “opportunity” at work, what do you listen to? Your ego, or your common sense?


This notion of ego versus common sense is one that I find crucial in career management. Why do you work? If it is for title and what passes for glory in your organization, then you will make one decision. If you are focused on work/life balance, you may make a different one. Neither is wrong, just understand your motivation and be at peace with your decision. Finally, thanks to everyone for the overwhelmingly positive feedback on this series. I could keep going with these lessons, but I’m only going to do one more. Then back to Project Management technical topics for a few weeks.


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