An Identifiable Loss

ImageI walked into the install bay. The door was open, letting in the morning sunlight, and I just wasn’t ready. This was supposed to have been a series of courses that we could graduate from but we knew it wouldn’t be. A few who weren’t self-driven, who had their own opinion about attendance and their requirements for the future – they didn’t show up. It was whatever John wanted to say before he was gone and I knew it.

No pressure or anything. I had only been looking forward to it all week, one of the roughest weeks of my career. I simply had to pull resources from a magical place on my one day off so I wouldn’t crash. He only had to make it worth it. What exactly would he say, when everyone took a seat around him, when he was taking off and the question on everyone’s mind was: what now?

There weren’t really any pens or pencils. No surface for tablets or laptops. Binders fell to the floor. And as much as my mind recorded, there is nothing that I can write that would recreate what happened in that little garage. Oh, sure, there were purposeful exercises to get us arguing, then agreeing, then realizing how our different stances were the same and why we were all holding our own positions – there were role plays on nonverbal cues and emphasis on tone and language that took one sentence through every intention and meaning. We stayed busy.

The takeaways were in the willingness to listen. The way the natural light lit the bay and washed our casual business attire. The way the laughter echoed when someone was forced into spontaneity and the value you felt in simply sitting together as a single unit. I kept looking down, like it was easier to contemplate the material and easier on the facilitator delivering the messages if you didn’t stare too long.

Feedback was the hardest thing to give. I took absolute refuge in everyone else’s eyes when it was my turn. And it seemed to work because everyone was looking at me, anyway. I could have spoken to the rest of the world with ease but I never could…look back at him during that moment.

I said that everyone could benefit from that final course. Leadership, management, peers, salespeople, short or long term. Big dreams or beer money. In a much vaguer and stumbling fashion I recommended the experience for everyone.

I thought, but held back and constantly reworked, that it was a shame how everyone would not get that opportunity. People who needed a crash course in communication and perspective would not receive one. That it was too fucking bad that it was all over.

“Okay.”

When it was time for him to finally walk out, I would be there zooming in via CCTV. Staring too close, for too long. Asset protection is like that, sometimes.

I hate losing shit from that fucking place.

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One For District John

When time and erosion sent our buildings falling sideways, one of the district guys came crashing through my business much to its benefit. Unfortunately it was a happy accident that would only last for a little while.

Given the changes, uncertainties and things in my workplace’s personal past I saw District John as damage control: knowledgeable, guiding, and not going anywhere. I never shared my takeaways because I didn’t think they mattered outside of my own opinion. He was here, numbers were improving and I assumed it all spoke for itself. Turns out, he ended up being one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever met and I have a lot to say about that.

No one else reads other people better – and actually does something with that ability. I’ve come in to work feeling like some kind of crack fiend, sick and worried about being a far cry from my best, and John has asked above all other things, “Is everything okay?”. The rest of the world for the entirety of my life has at most, silently noted that I didn’t look good and moved on with their agendas. John noticed something different, reached out and made a crucial connection that without a doubt made a difference in my day and improved the performance of the workplace overall.

He did that kinda stuff all over the place.

We nearly lost an associate because she was habitually absent and wasn’t receiving performance development. John used his power to re-position her where she otherwise would never have had the chance to sell a shit-ton of things after the fact. The message in his lifeline? Look, this is for real. And it’s time to grow up. No one else would have conveyed that. No one else did.

What other managers, especially those residing higher up, have spent so much time on the sales floor learning about who people really are? What other managers have been seen on their hands and knees fixing signs and stocking shelves or driving to the store for something we didn’t have for a client?  John caught the balls we were dropping. He hit the targets we were missing. And he did it, following along behind us, oftentimes without blatant explanation. I believe that not everyone knew what to make of it – that some didn’t even notice because they were ignorant to what it meant and how it reflected their own performance.

So many times he would stand at the front doors and extend conversation with customers, de-escalating by handing out promotional trinkets to crying kids or running out to grab carts from the parking lot. It took a while, hearing what he had to say and watching what he did, to realize that he was showing us what more we could do. On one rainy day I looked out at a cart in the handicapped spot and I had to confess… DAMMIT. It was hard to be like him.

I’ve been listening to everyone with the audacity to share their two cents and it’s kind of ironic how the people who struggle the most in their position all happen to have serious issues that need working on. It makes me wonder if there are any more team members like me who refrained from letting John know how much we needed him…and if the chatter of anything less set the tone for his journey elsewhere (back to the offices). After all, if everything we say and do really matters, maybe the frustration and struggle of it on our part made him feel like we weren’t thankful and that he needed to be where there were more people like him. Where people are better developed and their hair lasts longer because you aren’t constantly pulling it out over unreasonable clients. Where everyone is on the level.

But the truth is that people like him need to be in places like this.