A good leader helps his people find confidence in themselves and purpose in their work. Me, I just try to keep my employees from killing each other.
Take the other day. For hours, I had been going over figures prior to my working lunch with a new client, and decided to take a walk. I strolled down the hall toward the shop and was just turning ’round when someone yelled, “Gangway!” It was Kernel, our excitable vice-president, red of face and looking more scared than the time he thought he’d broken the loading dock.
Kernel raced by me like a bat out of Mississauga. Behind him charged Wirtz, our burly foreman, brandishing a lug wrench. I hadn’t seen him so mad since the Spice Girls broke up.
“Hold it!” I ordered, hoping to prevent an indictable offence from occurring on company property. I might as well have tried to stop Jack Welch from expensing his theatre tickets. [Editor’s note: This is a Canadian magazine, Cumulo. Could we have a local metaphor, please?] [Cumulo’s reply: How about: “might as well try to stop Bombardier from making Ski-Doos?”] [Editor’s note: Never mind.]
I chased them both up the hall, begging them to halt. Wirtz pretended not to hear me, and even Kernel knew better than to stop first. They charged through the front office, scaring our temporary receptionist so much she stopped stealing office supplies for the rest of the week.
Kernel was headed for my office. I had the door reinforced a few years ago, when we had that little electrical problem with non-polarized plugs in our home-appliance line. (Fortunately, the angry mobs never appeared.) Gaining a few crucial yards by leaping in front of Wanda, our general manager, Kernel scooted into my office and slammed the door just ahead of Wirtz’s wrench.
Wirtz was livid: “Come out, you lily-livered son of a …” “Stop!” I said, grabbing his arm just as his wrench was about to add Martha Stewart-esque textures to my door. Wirtz trembled with rage. “I’m going to do to Kernel what he did to my notebook computer,” he said. “I am going to drop him. I am going to erase his hard drive and terminate his program.”
This was serious. Wirtz just took a computer course, and now he prizes his notebook even above his collection of bowling balls. “I digitized my whole library of sausage recipes,” he cried. “Now they’re gone.”
“It was an accident,” Kernel called through the door. “I didn’t mean to. Here, I’ll let you smash my computer!” “Waitaminnit!” I objected. “I’d rather smash your …” said Wirtz. Suddenly, we all shut up as Wanda yelled, “Client on deck!” The front door opened and a confident-looking young man stepped into our foyer.
Maybe I can’t get my employees to behave, but I certainly stress the primacy of customer relations. When Wanda announced our client’s arrival, Wirtz put down his lug wrench, and Kernel stopped his pathetic pleading for life. I asked Wanda to lead our guest to the boardroom and then confiscated Wirtz’s weapon of mass destruction.
When Kernel moved the coffee table away from the door and unlocked my office, I dragged Wirtz into the room and gave them both Lecture No. 1. Maybe you know it: “This behavior is disgraceful … I expect more of you … this is a business, not a daycare …” As they shook hands and promised to talk out their problems, I wondered if I would ever be able to use real management skills instead of stealing lines from “Leave it to Beaver”.
When I got to the boardroom, Wanda was unwrapping sandwiches — alone. “Where did Mr. Nemo go?” I asked. “He called to say he’s running late,” said Wanda. “What?” I floundered. “Then who … ?” “That was the deli delivery guy,” Wanda smiled. “I knew he wasn’t our client, but I figured saying that would stop the fight.”
It’s a lesson I keep learning: good management isn’t rocket science. It’s staying cool when hotheads abound.