I’ve only been a waitress once, for one day. I was sixteen years old and had just passed my driver’s test on the second try. Excited to have the independence my age deserved, I realized I would need money for gas. It was time to get a job.
Applications submitted. Interviews complete. I found my job as a waitress in a nursing home in Cupertino, California. Eagerly I reported to work on the first day as a dining room waitress. A notebook and pencil thrust into my hand, I went onto the floor to take my first orders.
Quickly I realized that this job was much harder than I thought. The residents starting telling me what they wanted for lunch. But they also had questions and special requests. I didn’t know the menu. I didn’t know the protocols for special requests. I wrote everything down as fast as I could and tried to be patient with the people who were getting increasingly impatient with my novice abilities.
Evidently I didn’t get the orders right, because when I went to the kitchen to pick up the food for my table, the chef was yelling at me, calling me incompetent, and barking about my stupid first day mistakes. I grabbed the food, struggled to get them on the table, only to find the residents at my table were as irritated with me as the chef.
At the end of the lunch shift, with teary eyes and embarrassment, I turned in my resignation and went home, discouraged and defeated by my first and only day as a waitress.
“I’ve never known a person who didn’t light up at the memory of a truly great boss. And for good reason – they can shape and advance your career in ways you never expected – and sometimes they can even change your life.
In stark contrast, a bad boss can just about kill you.”
~ Jack Welch, Winning
What is your memory of the worst day you ever spent in a job? What happened? How did you feel? Who was the leader on that worst day in your life? Can you remember their name?
My experience was 42 years ago, but I can feel the humiliation and defeat of that job as if it was yesterday. The only leader I remember is the chef that chewed me out. I don’t remember who hired me. I don’t remember any training or preparation for my first shift. I don’t remember anyone concerned about my decision to resign. There was no exit interview. But this I know: I don’t ever want to put a new employee in that position. I don’t want any person to remember me 42 years later with humiliation and defeat.
Today, jot a few notes down about the worst working day of your life. What could the leader have done to set you up for success? What could they have done to make that the best day of your working life?
Then the hard part of the assignment.
Turn the mirror towards you.
Have you set up your people for success today?
Decide what you need to do right now to make sure that working for you will be a positive memory.
Let’s be better leaders – and leave a legacy.
This is my philosophy. You spend more time at your job than anywhere else in your life. If your job is not rewarding and supportive of your needs then you find a new one that does. No work is without its trials but it should not be your challenge. The goal is to have a win/win solution for you and your employer. That is when everyone is productive. As a manager we should work with our employees to find their strengths and guide them to careers that will let them grow both personally and professionally.
Ultimately, the only person I can control is me. That means that I must work on my behavior and that my behavior must be focused and upright but also supportive. It is too easy to fall into the trap of telling everyone what to do and how to fix their problems without guiding them through my behavior. It is also too easy to tell people what to do without ever respecting where they are at in life. What good does it do me to tell them what to do at work when outside of work their problems are so big that it affects their whole life? True and real change must take this into account and start with me. I must ask myself daily how I can serve them today and help them improve in some way.