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  • Bill Holmes

Bagging Groceries Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Being an Executive Part 6



“At any given moment, you have the power to say that this is NOT how the story is going to END” M.H.S. Pourri

“One of the key things is learning which bits of life you don't need to take seriously. Usually far more than you expect.” Penny Grubb

Lesson 6: Everyone fails. How you react to that failure is what people will remember.

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

I had been suspended for a week. I made a disparaging comment about the Assistant Store Manager to some people whom I believed to be my friends, and one of them had betrayed my confidence and told the manager. The saving grace was that I had been honest and owned my mistake, so the manager decided that the suspension would be private and would not be documented in my “permanent record” (whatever that was)! I put on my game face, clocked out and headed to my car.

I was shocked and a bit nauseous. While I was only 18, I had already had several jobs and excelled at all of them. Being suspended was unacceptable! But even in my anger, I knew that what I had done was wrong and I needed to deal with it. I left the store and went to my friend’s house where I explained what had happened. His reaction was to tell me “Of course you can’t trust those two, they are the biggest gossips in the store!”. That intel would have been helpful!

We joked that at least I had a week of vacation to catch up on things, but we both knew that it wouldn’t feel like that. We both agree that the most important thing I had to do was determine how I was going to act when I went back. I still had a management position, the store manager still liked me and (in theory) this would be our secret. There were three people I was concerned about. The Assistant Manager that I had spoken about and the two people who I had made the comments to. At least one of those two had betrayed me.

After a couple of days of pondering my choices, I decided that the best way to handle the situation was to tackle it head on. When I returned for my first shift after the suspension, I walked into the manager’s office and sat down with all parties involved. I told the Store Manager that I was sorry that I had betrayed his trust and that I would do everything I could to win it back. I told the Assistant Manager that no one deserved to be talked about behind their back and that I was very sorry. Finally, I apologized to the two ladies for involving them in the situation.

Then I went back to work, did my best and kept my mouth shut. And it all blew over as these things tend to do.

Years later I was able to apply this lesson in a professional setting. I had been doing a certain job for approximately 6 months and was the front runner for the permanent position. It would have been a promotion, but it would have also required me to serve there for two years before applying for the next promotion. I had been in the job, the manager and team liked me, and I had even received a performance award while there. It appeared the job was mine. However, the executive who ran the organization had just been replaced and there was a new executive in charge. He conducted interviews and decided to pick a different candidate! Worse, the feedback I received was that while I was the best candidate, he wanted to pick someone who didn’t have a relationship with the current management team. Finally, they asked me to stay several more weeks to train my replacement!

Wow. I was disappointed and a bit humiliated, but I remembered the Piggly Wiggly lesson. I put on my game face and proceeded to provide my replacement the best training I could. I worked hard, kept my mouth shut and did my best. Then I went back to my old job.

About a month later, I was asked by the person I had trained to participate in a National Task Force that had high visibility. Within 3 months of that, I had applied for and received a promotion which was the next step in my career progression. When I asked the selecting official why they picked me, she told me it was because word had gotten around that I had been treated unfairly. What really impressed her was my composure and attitude in the face of this. Ultimately, I got promoted to the position I really wanted a full year early because of my “set back”.

People expect you to act well when you win. Your behavior when you suffer a setback is what really defines you.

Coda

I work my full time job (which is about 50 hours a week), am starting a business and blogging about the experience (www.seaclutch.com), have a weekly blog on management and project related issues (www.projectmanagementforum.net). I am also finishing a PMP® practice test book that should be published this fall. With 4 daughters and a lot of hobbies, I have a full plate! I have been blogging for over a year now and really like writing, so I think I am going to try writing a fictional novel. There are so many opportunities to self publish and outlets like Amazon and Etsy solve the distribution issues, so why no. Life is too short to just sit around!