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Have you ever had a personal encounter with someone that absolutely changed your life? Whether for better or worse, that one person impacted the way you see things and the choices you make.
For me, one of those people was Blair Rigby, owner of Showcase Interiors, and my first real boss.
As you can imagine, I learned a lot at my first job, but the skill acquisition far surpassed traditional characteristics like punctuality and reliability. I learned valuable leadership lessons that stuck with me through my whole life and still impact my personal interactions to this day.
Let me tell you what I learned.
8 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My First Boss
1. Attitude is more important than education.
Leaving one of my night classes at Ricks College, I noticed a posting on the hall bulletin board, advertising an opening as a warehouse assistant at Showcase Interiors. It seemed like destiny, since I had recently decided I wanted to be an interior designer (this was a foot in the door!).
Five minutes into the interview, I was informed that a college degree was a prerequisite for the position. I wanted the job so bad…I lied. I said I was in my last year of school and would graduate in a few short months.
I was given the job, but Mr. Rigby soon discovered my deception. He would have been justified in his decision to fire me; however, he allowed me to stay. What made him disregard his own, self-imposed requirements?
My work ethic.
Mr. Rigby had given me an opportunity to excel both personally and professionally. He had welcomed my interest in new business areas and let me earn my rank as a purposeful team player in a few short months.
Hard work, determination, perseverance—these qualities are at least as valuable, if not more valuable, than a college degree or inherent business acumen.
I’m not just saying this because the ‘attitude over education’ debate saved me from unemployment. I’ve seen firsthand, time and time again, that the best team members are those who are willing to go above and beyond. A leader must be careful to not discount the potential for greatness, simply because there’s a lack of education or experience.
There are certain short-term gains associated with trained ability, but perseverance, drive and dedication win in the long-term.
2. Employees are human…and should be treated as such.
In many businesses, employees are more often seen as a job title or a list of responsibilities rather than actual human beings. Employees have feelings and families. They have good days and bad. They have passions and desires.
The leader who takes these things into consideration is the one who is able to truly optimize productivity.
Despite being the owner of the company, Mr. Rigby was the type of boss who was also your friend. He took time to get to know every employee and genuinely cared about their welfare. He created rapport with each member of the team, which ultimately enabled a better understanding of their competencies, strengths, and abilities.
These assets are easily overlooked by the bosses who reject the opportunity to get to know their workforce.
Mr. Rigby taught me that we are all humans. Knowing I had a boss that genuinely cared about me created a sense of belonging and inspired reciprocal results.
Regardless of how busy a leader becomes, it is important to not forget or dismiss the fact that humans are not robots; there is infinite potential for a human despite, faults and shortcomings.
Successfully matching employee’s strengths with responsibilities is the best way to cultivate a productive team. Only personal interactions will identify the most important components for success: passion, drive, and interest. It is human attributes like these that take mediocre to great!
3. Pinpoint the cause of each problem and then identify a solution.
Mr. Rigby didn’t just point out mistakes and walk away. He took the time to explain what caused the mistake and helped me identify specific ways to avoid the same shortcomings in the future.
He downplayed my personal faults by turning the situation into a learning experience.
To be honest, I made a lot of mistakes in the interest of trying to be the fastest and the best. If Mr. Rigby would have only identified the symptom and not the cause, he would have ignored the fact that my mistakes were really derived from a lack of understanding—and not a symptom of negligence or incompetence.
With the wrong leadership style, my boss’s reactions to these mistakes could have robbed my confidence and left me too afraid to try new things – which would turn a valuable employee into a complacent and uninspired robot.
4. Be passionate.
Mr. Rigby was incredibly passionate about his business. He showed appreciation for all the details of his operation, even the seemingly insignificant ones.
Many business owners are passionate about things like providing great customer service and selling quality products. However, generating overall enthusiasm is challenging if you aren’t interested and attentive to the little things.
It’s important to note there is a difference between cultivating passion and micromanaging. Micromanagement is derived from a lack of trust. Passion stems from a desire to improve and a commitment to quality.
As Warren Buffet said, “Without passion, you don’t have energy. Without energy, you have nothing.”
5. Inspire people to do and be more.
I can’t tell you how many times I was pushed outside my comfort zone while working with Mr. Rigby. He just kept assigning tasks with blind faith that I could do them.
He let me work to improve and allowed me to fix my mistakes. I did make mistakes while venturing outside my area of expertise, but his forgiveness and encouragement motivated me to improve.
And I wanted to improve. He inspired me to be better and learn more, and I wanted to impress him with my progress.
Mr. Rigby demanded more than I thought I could do, but sure enough—he was right. As a result, I ended up realizing that whatever I think I can do, I can actually do a little better.
I hope my leadership has that same impact on others.
6. Work shouldn’t be work.
I may get gussied up in suites and spend the majority of my day sitting behind a desk now, but it wasn’t always that way. I used to spend significant portions of my work day in less conventional ways.
At Showcase Interiors, my speedy and masterful command of the company’s forklift earned me the nickname Mario Andretti. The crew regularly paused to play a bit of basketball because there was a hoop installed in the warehouse. And to learn essential details about the products we offer, we created ad hock quizzes and competitions.
Because when work is fun, it isn’t a chore.
7. Accept advice when people are willing to give it.
My boss had instructed me on how to measure and cut the carpet from the roll. Headstrong teenager that I was, I figured my method was better than his.
You can probably guess how that turned out. I miss-cut the carpet. And as you know, there isn’t much use for a piece of carpet that is shorter than the room it is supposed to fill.
I had made a costly and inconvenient mistake, but that mistake turned into an essential life lesson.
Humility is a valuable characteristic. We shouldn’t assume we have the right answers, best strategies and superior rational. Those who have gone before us are wiser and more experienced. If they are willing to guide us down the right path, we will often do better to follow.
8. Own your responsibility.
I once sold a product to a customer that we didn’t actually stock.
Mr. Rigby could have handled the situation himself, soothing the client and rectifying the problem. Instead, he made me call the very upset customer who accused me of being completely incompetent. The abuse may have been warranted, but it was oh-so humiliating!
At the time, it was hard to get past the embarrassment and shame I was feeling. In hindsight though, I can appreciate the lesson Mr. Rigby was trying to teach me.
Responsibility is a gift we give people. We enable them to do things and act independently. But that gift can be a double edge sword. Responsibility demands we own our actions, whether good or bad. We can’t highlight our successes while simultaneously downplaying our failures. We need to acknowledge our shortcomings too—and learn from them.
Even though it’s been years since I left Mr. Rigby and Showcase Interiors, the lessons I learned will last me a lifetime.
What about you? What legacy are you leaving your employees? Is your leadership style impactful and memorable in a good way—or bad?