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"So often we think we have got to make a difference and be a big dog. Let us just
try to be little fleas biting. Enough fleas biting strategically can make a big dog very uncomfortable."
~ Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, (1939 - ).
What project are you working on that is overwhelming, too vast, offering unsurmountable odds?
What's the smallest, tiniest step you can take today?
I ran across a grid I had created when I first became a supervisor. It documented questions I had of our department director. My plan was not to dart in every time I had a question, but to save them up, sort them by priority, and sit down and have a thoughtful discussion and record the answers for future reference.
Being promoted out of the ranks is a steep cliff to climb. Crevices that appeared to be good footholds disappeared as soon as I neared. More than once rock tumbled down the slippery slope as I gripped the side of the leadership precipice and toe-kicked helplessly trying to hang on.
It is almost laughable now—what I asked—nothing of earth shattering importance, more of sorting out responsibilities and understanding oversight of projects, attempting to direct attention to areas I felt were neglected, and questions on actions I should take to bring employees into alignment with established company guidelines.
I was sent on several missions. I wonder now if they were tests of my ability to step into a leadership role, or just traps I fell into of my own making. The odd thing is that the salespeople, whom I had previously worked side-by-side with, were more accepting of me as a leader than the sales assistants. When asked to alter a common mis-practice to better reflect company standards, one assistant snapped, “Someday we will have so many criteria and guidelines we won’t be able to sell anything.” Odd statement, I thought, from someone who doesn’t sell anything.
On another occasion my immediate manager was on vacation and the director sent me to give an assistant feedback on coming to work at set times as opposed to creating her own flex schedule. After I gently led her through the 'come to work on time' concept the assistant crossed her arms across, stared me down and stated, “You are not my boss.” I was dumbfounded and have no recollection of what I said in response. What remains is my total shock that anyone older than five would utter that sentence.
Pollyanna-esque, I ran confidently into the supervisor role, certain I was equipped with enough company experience, enough college management classes, and a thorough understanding of our company systems to succeed. Yet, surprises I never anticipated greeted me at each twist of the management trail, including that maybe it wasn't exactly what I thought it would be.
What was the biggest surprise you had when you stepped into management?
In an effort to reduce health care costs, and usually in a better economy, businesses experiment with in-house employee health improvement programs. This move is usually spurred by a health club initiating a sales strategy to secure corporate members, i.e., someone wants to make money and sells corporate on the idea that investing in their scheme will save the company money.
These health care pros set up shop in the conference room, weigh, take blood pressure, consult on drinking more water, encourage healthy eating, and generally make a nuisance of themselves during a busy work week.
These health initiatives have a strong uplift, plateau, then diminish.
The kick that pushes us to take better care of our personal and work lives is usually a close encounter with a scare. Ours or someone else's.
What propelled you to change something in your life last year?
Fourth quarter is the live or die point for many retail businesses. They must generate funds to pay old bills, provide for current expenses, invest in spring inventory, and have enough of a nest egg to survive a volatile first quarter that brings inclement weather usually resulting in feeble sales.
Businesses that stumble during this period and cease commerce (go out of business) devastate the wholesalers they would have normally purchased from, and before going down they crumple competitors by dumping low priced inventory into the marketplace. Then, in a final death knell, they disgorge their staff into the ranks of the unemployed.
It clears the landscape in a messy way leaving pockmarks of unfilled dreams and aspirations including those of unpaid creditors.
In the next few weeks those sinking into the whirlpool of out-of-business will make their bitter announcements and others will initiate changes to survive. What is your company doing to prove value and stay viable in 2010? And what about you?