A long time ago, I was working as a draftsman in a company with 70,000 employees. It was easy to come and go, relatively un-noticed and as a somewhat introverted individual, that rather suited me. My work was of an acceptable standard and in some ways I quite enjoyed it.
One day my boss told me that he wanted me to change the way I entered the office: instead of quietly, with my head down, he wanted me on entering to shout “Guten Morgen” (this was Austria) very loudly indeed. The first time, a dozen pairs of eyes looked up under raised eyebrows, I even heard a few ‘guten morgens’ in response. After about a week, others in the office started to wander over for a few words. Things changed – I got invited out for a drink in the evening, to ten-pin bowling, then later still, on holiday, to stay the weekend. Life became great.
As life became great, so too did work. I sought advice of others when I struggled, I joined in with group projects, began to study and finally got promoted. As the days flew by, my boss looked on quietly. Eventually I came to understand just what Willi had done for me.
You may be unable to change what you do, but you can change how you do it.
Another long time ago, I was just starting out in my present company. It so happened that my boss at that time, ‘Mr. Tom’, was chairman of the business and considered to be at least mildly eccentric. By this time in my career I was reasonably capable with the ability to learn, but lacking experience and understanding; I doubt I’d even heard the word empathy.
Mr. Tom set the strangest challenges. He’d have me complete huge sheets of figures (as an ex-draftsman my presentation was perfect) then he’d pore over the sheets, striking through or circling in green ink every error or inconsistency – only he was allowed to use green ink. At first this upset me, but in time I learned to place content before presentation. Mr. Tom was not a man to establish a report’s value by weighing it.
It’s said that an expert is someone who is thirty miles from home. Not in this business it wasn’t. Everyone was encouraged to look around, ask questions, including that most powerful of management tools, “Why?” When told we could improve our irrigation efficiency in the strawberry fields, Mr. Tom asked “Why?” then said to get on with it. Faced with responsibility, one learns to think before making assertions, not after.
As trust (which by the way only works as a two-way thing yet can be coaxed) developed, so did the number of opportunities: I was sent overseas with a van to purchase antiques, asked to deliver a hen’s egg using a company vehicle, sent to count tubs in a barn, given tasks that lasted late into the evening, summoned back on a Sunday afternoon, given responsibility for large amounts of cash (in those days pickers were paid in the field).
Looking back, it’s clear that Mr. Tom knew exactly what he was doing. In time, I came to treat those who reported to me in the same manner – encourage individuality, free thinking and creativity; don’t stifle opinion even when you personally don’t agree with it; allow the occasional mistake. Above all create a bond of trust and see that it will almost always be reciprocated. Eventually I came to understand just what Mr. Tom had done for me.
Trust your staff and they will come to trust you.
Footnote: Why the hen’s egg? Back then, driving a company vehicle meant going flat-out, arriving in a cloud of dust. On delivering the egg I questioned its significance. The response was: “Did you drive slower today?”