My first encounter with management was when I was 16. It was my first encounter with Big Bad Pete and it is why I got in to management.
Those were the days.
Long days. Days with little to do. A gap year between College and University.
A gap year for me to earn some cash ready for the heady long days of University.
So I got a job in a supermarket. The gangly, young, pony tailed, post-grunge, tie-dyed t-shirt wearing me; working full time.
I started on the checkouts before moving to code checking (checking stock for out of date expirations), then I moved to being checkout supervisor before finally running an entire fresh department. It was an epic year. (btw – I left that year with zero in my bank balance, but I did have fun 🙂 )
But it was also a year in which I realised how bad management could be, and how to stand out from the crowd (good communication skills – but we’ll come to that in future posts).
The manager of this store was called Pete. Big Bad Pete.
He was awful. A real tyrant.
People would do anything to avoid being shouted at by Pete.
Someone flung themselves down stairs, breaking their ankle, just to avoid Pete.
He made grown adults cry and he didn’t seem to care.
A customer complained to him about the state of the store, so he threw a case of wine at them.
Poor old Terry, the freezer manager, in a moment of panic and fear as Pete approached, shut himself in the upright freezers with the frozen vegetables. He couldn’t get out. It was 4 hours until some found him. We had to wheel him to the bakery department to defrost him by the ovens.
Pete ran the shop with a command and control mentality.
The problem was it didn’t work. His staff hated him. His financial numbers were dwindling. He shouted at customers. Good people left.
And despite all of this he was loved by his regional manager (even though he rarely hit his targets).
You see his regional manager was just like Big Bad Pete.
Angry. Aggressive. Dominating. Controlling. Adamant he knew everything. Unwilling to delegate. Unwilling to accept that another way may be better. Unwilling to treat people like people. Unwilling to cultivate himself in to a better person. (Remember, your management will never be better or worse than you as a person).
I soon realised that managers attract other people who are like them.
If you’re not careful the whole organisation becomes like the manager – this can be good or bad or indifferent. Pete’s supermarket was going from bad to worse. The staff and middle managers all acted like Pete. Sane, rational, once pleasant people started following the behaviour from the top. I could see myself doing it too.
So when I became a manager I was determined not to be like Big Bad Pete.
I was determined to hire the best talent, treat them well, leave them alone to do their work, build a culture that people wanted to join, cultivate myself and cultivate the teams where people had the freedom to do the right thing (for the customer).
After a few months of working in the supermarket (which by the way was an amazing experience) Big Bad Pete got promoted to regional manager and he left the store. The whole business rejoiced.
In his place arrived a man called Steve.
Steve was kind, clever and people focused. He cared about people, but he also knew the bigger system of the supermarket could either help or hinder the staff.
He taught us all about flow, goal setting and good customer service. He promoted the right people. He gave people more autonomy than head office liked.
But under Steve the supermarket flourished. The financial numbers went in the right direction, rapidly.
People enjoyed their work and people didn’t leave very often. Customers no longer had wine thrown at them.
Steve and Pete fought. But the numbers were good so Steve was generally left alone. After all, Pete, was now busy being a tyrant to other store managers.
Steve demonstrated to me, early in my working life, what it takes to be a good manager.
No, scrap that.
He showed me what it takes to be an excellent manager.
And still to this day I’m learning, improving my work and focusing on being the best manager any of my directs have ever had. And I have Steve to thank for that. An early mentor.
Steve taught me this.
Management is hard. But it can be done with kindness, care and thoughtful decision making.
In a nutshell, you don’t have to be like Big Bad Pete to be effective.
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