Saturday, 18 July 2015

Lessons about Management and Leadership from the Man in the Street



Life is a great teacher and what is certain, if we have thought about it, is that each day will bring with it a new set of lessons for us, and we do not know in what way these lessons will be packaged, who will deliver them and how they will be delivered.

What we do know is that we have the responsibility to recognise each moment that we share with others as an opportunity to learn something. This "something", we may already be familiar with, but the perspective from which it is being presented to us may be new and, we find that we are being challenged to examine this "something" in new ways.

Recently, I had the pleasure of a chance meeting with the man in the street. He is a cab driver. I needed to get to several destinations as soon as possible and he agreed to transport me to those destinations, for a fee of course.

We made our first stop at one of my target destinations, a business situated in what could be described as an industrial complex. This is a sprawling area with many interconnected businesses, their exterior in different states of repair.

 While we waited on the outside of this place of business for my companion to conclude her business within, (only one person in a group was allowed access into this business), the driver of the taxi began to share the first of many stories that he shared that day. I will only share three of those stories with you.

 Story 1

This gentleman, let us call him Sal, is knowledgeable about, and has an opinion about the politics of this business environment and is not afraid to share this opinion. First, he started a commentary on the business outside of which we were waiting, its owner and its workers.

Then he said, "Tell me the truth about this situation. Look at that," he said, pointing to what appeared to be a late model vehicle of a particular make, parked in front of the business. "This is what she drives and the business has no water. My God, man!" he exclaimed. "She is making a lot of money and she refuses to pay her water bill!" Sal went on to tell me that the lady transported water from her home in the mornings to her place of business. "What happens," Sal wanted to know, "when she travels?"

Apparently this lady, because of the nature of her business, travels regularly, staying away for two to three weeks at a time. Her employees run the business until she returns.

Sal wanted to know how the employees managed without water when the boss travelled and how they accommodated clients who wanted to use the facilities. He shook his head in disbelief at the way this woman chose to run her business and treat her workers.

Sal could not understand how this business owner who appeared to be doing well, having businesses at home and abroad, could treat her workers so shabbily. He told me in all earnestness that if I looked at the shoes and the sun-burnt clothing that her employees wore, I would feel sorry for them.

This complex as I mentioned before is made up of interconnected businesses, but some of them are located at great distances from each other. This business owner expects her workers to do courier duties, so they have to walk from point "a" to several other points on the complex and back to point "a" in all kinds of weather.

Sal had a possible solution to the apparent hardship being faced by the employees. He suggested that the lady could buy a bicycle, for use in the business, to make it easier for the workers to get around. In addition, he suggested that the lady could supply her workers with jeans and t-shirts and cheap sneakers for work purposes. After all, he said, she did not pay them well. Her worker turnover was high. Doing something nice for them would encourage her workers to stay, Sal believed.

Of course, Sal did not voice his concerns about her business practices to that lady.

 Story 2

My companion eventually concluded her business at business place 1 and we moved on to business place 2. At business place 2, Sal and I waited outside because, again, only one person in a group was allowed into this place of business.

We sat on benches on the outside of the walls of this business, battling a dust storm while listening to the curses and shouts of joy of the losers and winners of the game of dominoes that was being played right there beside us, and watching vehicles of all sizes going up and down the dusty street.

It was here that Sal shared his second story. He told me about the "foreign" gentleman who who had migrated to our country. This gentleman started a restaurant business. Sal, who was previously engaged in supplying restaurants with local fruits, made supplies to this gentleman's restaurant. Sal was impressed by the way that this man did business compared to other local business men around him. This man paid for his orders promptly, he paid in cash (something that Sal appreciated) and he was willing to make a small profit in order to move stock (his competitors held out for higher profits).

Sal said that one day he was talking to this gentleman (let's call him Mr. Chin). He said to Mr. Chin, "Treat your workers well! If you treat them well, they will treat you well."

Mr. Chin wanted to know what Sal meant by that statement. He told Mr. Chin that he should give his workers time off from work, within reason, to take care of personal issues that would arise. Also, he told him that instead of dumping the leftover food from his restaurant in the evenings, he should package it and give it to his workers to take home. He offered Mr. Chin much more advice, he said.

Sal said that one day he met Mr. Chin and he was very excited. "Thank you! Thank you!" Sal, Mr Chin said. He couldn't stop beaming. "You see what you told me?" Mr. Chin asked. "That worker!" he exclaimed pointing at a worker. "Very good worker!" Mr. Chin told him how he had helped that worker and how that worker had been paying him back by being extremely industrious. Moreover, Mr. Chin said that all his workers were very good workers. They were at work before he was most mornings and he was never late!

According to Sal, Mr. Chin does not charge him for his meals when he visits his restaurant, even though he is willing to pay.

Mr. Chin's restaurant is doing very well. Furthermore, he has diversified his business and has assured Sal that he will always use the lessons that he has taught him.

Story 3

After this story, we were quiet for a while. I pondered what I had just heard and Sal probably was thinking about the extra business that he was about to get from us and how he was going to ensure that we would be satisfied with his service. (We were very satisfied)

Suddenly, a gentleman disengaged himself from the crowd of men watching the game of dominoes. He crossed to the other side of the street, after engaging some men in witty banter.

"You see that man?" Sal asked, surreptitiously pointing with his chin at the gentleman across the street. This gentleman was leaning on his very nice vehicle. I acknowledged that I had seen him.

"No manners!" Sal said. "Absolutely, no manners!" Sal told me that this man was a (insert title here). He said that by the nature of the man's job, you would expect him to be more courteous than he was. He told me that the man did not believe in waiting in line for anything or following the rules guiding operations at the complex. Sal told me of occasions when other people had decided to stand their ground against him.

Now, this gentleman had had an assistant for fifteen years. One day this assistant came to work, ill. She asked her boss, this gentleman, if she could take the day off from work because she was not feeling well. This man refused. He needed her assistance so she could not leave. The assistant stayed at work that day.

The following day the gentleman did not show up for work. However, he showed up the next day. The assistant overheard this gentleman telling someone that he could not come to work the previous day because he had to take his dog to the vet.

The assistant was livid. She endured at the job for just a little while longer until she found another position. Without giving this gentleman any notice, she walked away.

A brief pause followed this story, while I gazed at the gentleman across the street to see if I could see any tangible proof of his flaws. He looked quite normal, at that moment.

Sal interrupted my contemplation of that gentleman by saying, "Treat people well. If you treat them well, they will treat you well."

Many lessons learnt that day!

Do you treat your workers well? Do you generally treat others well?

Sound off in the comment section below.

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