When I was 16 years old my mother sent me out the door and told me not to come back until I had a job or talked to 5 different hiring managers. After two weeks of looking and talking to dozens and dozens of prospective employers I finally landed a job bagging groceries at Lucky’s.
Since then I have been privileged to have had many great bosses (and few horrible ones.) The lessons I have learned from these people stick with me every day. I am grateful for these lessons.
Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to keep going back for more. Before I ever worked at Lucky’s I was child labor. My mom always had us kids working. When I was fourteen years old my mom would wake me up early every Saturday morning to go clean model homes for a local home builder. There I learned to clean windows like a pro.
The following summer my mother went to a office supply retailer and got me a bucket, squeegee and professional grade window cleaner in concentrate. Then she told me I had a summer job washing windows and to go get my customers.
I will never forget this. She handed me a pencil and pad of paper. Her instructions were clear. Write down the names of every person you meet, even if they don’t want clean windows today. Get their name, write down their address, and try to get their phone number.
That day I landed two customers and made $90. When I came home my mother advised me to call those people on the same day of each month and ask if they needed my services again. Is it any wonder that today I love marketing automation?
My mom taught me a great lesson that day. Get out. Get to work. Call people back and ask for more of their business. Simple formula that continues to prove itself over and over.
Lesson #2: Hard work gets respect. The General Manager at Luckys was a man named Richard. Everyone was afraid of him. He never smiled, just stared and sat in his office. I don’t even know if I spoke a word to him during my first year. Then one day he approached me and said he had a job just for me. I was somewhat nervous.
He told me that the attic had become very disorganized and had accumulated a lot of junk and wanted to know if I would clean it out. He said it would probably take all day. Not about to say no to the most feared person on the planet I said yes. He sent me home to change into grubby clothes and said I could bring my walkman back with me. I remember grabbing a Michael Jackson tape.
That day I worked as hard as I could. I worked fast and did not mind the heat. I was just stoked to be away from the public eye, in comfortable clothes and listening to music. I got the job done much earlier than he expected.
From that day on Richard and I talked a lot and I scored a lot cool projects from Richard that gave me more opportunities.
Thank to Richards integrity and fairness I learned that if you work hard, you’ll get noticed.
Lesson #3: The fruits of dishonesty are sour. The next job I had after Luckys was working for a restaurant. It was a small restaurant owned by an entrepreneur. Looking back I am pretty positive this guy violated every child labor law and health code imaginable. I was 17 years old. I would move from operating heavy duty cleaning equipment to frying chicken to bussing tables to cleaning floor mats well after 11:00 PM on a school night.
Two weeks into the job one of the waitresses asked how my tips were. “What tips?”, was my response. That revealed to everyone that the owner had been taking my tips. I immediately confronted him and quit. Within two weeks so did everyone else and he went out of business.
Lesson $3: Respect pays back in dividends. On the complete opposite side of the scale is Mohammad. Mo (as we called him) is the boss for whom I have the most respect for of all the people I worked for. I think its because he showed a tremendous amount of respect for the people who worked for him first. Mo was the General Manager for another restaurant.
Mo would ask each new employee what was important to them. He then held them to their own standards. As long as you lived as you spoke, Mo was always more than fair and always made decisions that the employee would benefit the most from. If you lied and lived in hypocrisy you did not reap the same benefits.
Shortly after Mo retired the restaurant took on a new feel. Customers noticed, business dropped significantly and what was once the highest producing store in the chain fell into the bottom 10%. I know it has everything to do with how Mo treated people. Especially his employees.
The lesson I learned from this experience is that employees will treat customers the way they are treated by their boss.
Lesson #5: Know your customers by name and by preference. I worked in a lot of restaurants. In college I worked at one named Anchos Grill in Riverside, CA. Pepe was a partner there. The thing about Pepe is that he remembers every patron what they order, the names of their kids, their favorite Margarita and when they came in last.
It’s easy to guess that everyone loves Pepe. It just feels like he loves you. I think he really does. This kind of relationship that he built with everyone keeps people coming back. I remember waiting on customers who had moved out of town and came back just to introduce their friends to Pepe and say hi.
The lesson I learned here is that every brand needs an evangelist that genuinely loves what the company does, it’s customers and treats people like royalty.
Lesson #6: Celebrate contribution. In 2005 I began work for my second female boss. Her name is Marianne. Marianne was the most wonderful example in so many ways a book could probably be written about it. As I considered which of all the lessons I learned from her was the most important it was this one. When anybody does something of value – celebrate it.
Most managers or leaders will shell out some sort of recognition with a certificate, an email to the company or maybe something a little more. Not Marianne. Every week during our sales meetings she would call out everyones successes for the week, clap over the phone for the the contribution people made. Every year at our sales conference every employee, not just the sales employees, had a big deal made about the way they contributed to the overall success of the region.
But it was not just done publicly. Marianne would pull employees aside privately and thank them and reward them.
Knowing my contributions would be recognized as often as I made them, encouraged me to make as many I could.
Lesson #7: Don’t be cheap. I am cheating on this. This lesson does not come from someone I directly reported to, but indirectly did. While at FranklinCovey I did a lot of event marketing. One of our General Managers who is now their CMO is famous for putting on the ritz. If it was not red carpet, it did not get done. Often times we would scale down how much we did so that we never sacrificed the quality of what we did.
I learned that customers are more interested in the quality of attention to you pay to them more than anything else.
I continue to work for great people. At EnerBank there are amazing individuals leading our organization and have learned so much from them already. The same goes for the American Marketing Association. I am surrounded by people of many titles all working together to do something amazing and they all teach me something new every day.
The big lesson here is that we are all surrounded by people who do great things, have great habits and lead great lives. If we open our eyes and check our ego at the door we can take on their greatness and make it our own.