Bagging Groceries Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Being an Executive Part 16
“Rooster today, feather duster tomorrow.” Russian proverb
“The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” Uncredited
Lesson 16. Look deep inside yourself and find that part of you that really doesn’t care. Never let that go!
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 sixteenth in a series of posts describing the Executive Leadership lessons I learned in that first job.
I was attending college and working full time at Piggly Wiggly as an Assistant Produce Manager. Our store was prosperous and busy, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that the corporation itself was struggling.
We went through a round of “rightsizing”, which was a clever way of saying we fired a bunch of people. The workload didn’t decrease, so those of us who were left struggled to do our jobs and fill in behind our suddenly absent colleagues. And suddenly everyone was looking over their shoulder for the next round of cuts. Naturally morale plummeted.
Then came the predictable cost cutting measures. Orders from the warehouse began to get trimmed and we started running out of high volume items. Training was gutted and even the Piggly Wiggly softball team was canceled. Seriously, how much could that have cost?
Years later, I worked for an organization with an operational budget of almost $14B a year. Senior leadership decided to cut a highly popular executive benefit that cost less than $14,000 total a year to “save costs” and “set the example”.
It did certainly let us know what was important!
Ultimately, none of it mattered. A few months later the Regional Vice President came to the store and scheduled a series of meetings with specific employees. When my time came, he sat me down and explained that the company was suffering unacceptable financial losses and needed to close many stores. He appreciated my service and thanked me for the 6 years I worked there. Then he told me that the money I had in my retirement account was forfeited and my insurance was cancelled effective immediately.
And after 6 years of loyal service, that was that.
I walked across the street to the local Speed Shop where high-performance automotive parts were sold and race cars were built. I had a job that afternoon, and I worked there until I graduated college.
In an earlier post, I explained that you owe the organization your loyalty, hard work and ethical behavior. That organization owes you a paycheck.
That is the relationship. To make it more than that is to invite heartache and dissatisfaction.
When I worked at Piggly Wiggly, different departments went to war over a variety of issues, managers got locked into territorial battles and vendors fought over shelf space. In retrospect, none of it mattered. How could it? The company went out of business!
How many of you routinely get angry because a peer won’t do what you want them to do? That “leadership” is making bad choices? That your email won’t stop, your rating system is nonsensical or that budget issues are determined by a poorly planned, near random process?
Did you do your best? Did you provide wise counsel when asked? Did you work hard? Have you been loyal and ethical? If the answers to these questions are “yes”, then why do you care?
You have to find that part of you that just doesn’t care!
If you can’t do that, the stress will ultimately take its toll on you and you won’t be able to perform anyway.
So lighten up! You’ll live longer!
I work in an incredibly high stress job. My portfolio is full of high profile, high risk activities that are very important to my organization. I travel a lot (often internationally) and the email’s never stop coming. Furthermore, I have very smart people on my team who are involved in cutting edge technology in emerging disciplines such as Data Science and Iterative Predictive Analytics. This requires me to constantly educate myself, so I continually read technical documents just to keep up! When young executives ask me the most important thing about surviving as an executive, I share the lesson in this blog with them.
This is the last in this series. I will do a summary post next week. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and I hope you enjoyed them.