Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Making of a Manager

I sometimes think of essays I want to write, and bounce them around in my head a bit, but I never actually get down to writing them, because who has the time to write an essay for fun with no possibility of compensation.

One of the prompts I wrote to myself was “manager”.

I’m not sure of the basis for it. I think it was part of my MBA program. We have been taking in various classes about leadership and people that you want to follow and how you become that person. It might boil down to who you want to work for, so this is all subjective. For me, it is hard to look at the good qualities that you want. Like a movie or a book you like, it is hard to say why some people are easier to work with and for, but it is easy to think of bad examples. I had a boss that was petty and capricious and incapable of doing any of the jobs that he nominally supervised without getting in the way. When I think of bad bosses, he fits the bill.

It is harder to think of the opposite. I want to work for someone who is not those things I listed. I have been fortunate to work for some good supervisors in my career, so to really say there is one best is hard. Luckily, my first boss was someone who I was glad I worked for, even though the job itself was something that is often denigrated. My first real job was at Burger King, Well, I’m sure it was technically for some franchise, but I forget the name on my checks and told people the name on my uniform.

My first boss was Mike Devericks. He was young and enthusiastic. There were open interviews for the new Burger King that was opening up at what was then a blank space on the map but turned into a busy shopping area once the new Walmart went in. As I remember, the interviews started at 8:30 on a Saturday, and I had nothing to do and family that was strongly encouraging me to get a job. I made it a point to be there as early as possible, and I think I was the first one interviewed.  What I am certain of is that Mike was the first person to offer me a job where he stood up and shook my hand.

In the scheme of things, it was a summer job, but I tried to have pride in what I did, making those Chicken Sandwiches and BK Big Fishes, and making sure the fries were always on supply, and that the chicken tenders were not to old to be served to the customers. I liked the people I worked with, and I learned to smoke at least three cigarettes in the thirty minute lunch break while eating food. They key was remembering which hand was for drinks and which for the smokes.

But the thing is that though I could work by myself or with the other fry cooks, there were times when there was no way we could keep up. The orders would go up on the screen with a timer on it to tell you how long they had been on the screen and they would start blinking if they were too old. I have a memory where Mike stepped in right as panic began, and looked at the screen and knew how many buns to drop and how many fries and just took over. I had thought I was good at the position, but he rocked it.

And that is what I want in a manager. I want the person above me to allow me to have the autonomy to learn my job and work it to the best of my abilities, but be able to jump in and help me (and my team) when I need help. Additionally a key trait is to know when that is, because sometimes people don’t realize how far they are in over their head. It may have been a summer job, but on reflection, it was an important lesson on leadership.