Originally Published February 21, 2008
Part 2 of 4 in my Leadership Lessons Series:
"Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge."
Summer, 1981. I become one of many assistant managers in the games division of Hershey Park. It was my first real management position and I remember it as if it was yesterday.
Back-to-back for two previous summers, I worked in every single games booth as a barker - you know the job, "Step right up and give it a try!" and I was required to wear a bright crayon yellow shirt with rainbow bars on the shoulders, navy blue pants, and, to signify my rank, a white name tag with black all cap lettering to identify my status. No title, no last name, just me and a blue Hershey Park logo. All divisions at Hershey were required to wear a different uniform to determine their section - sanitation and food prep was a striped blue shirt with navy pants, security was a light brown shirt with chocolate colored pants, the rides division was also blue but a different style. The ever-present sweepers, all girls, were allowed to wear shorts with white bobby socks but the guys had to suffer through the summer in long pants.
Within each division, there were managers - green tags were assistant managers, blue tags were managers, and brown tags worked for Hershey directly. If a brown tag told you to jump, you asked how high. The color of one's tag was the rigid cast system under which we worked. Who knew "Hershey Park Happy" was based on solid management principles?
Over a slow two-year period, I had proven myself trustworthy, shown a solid work ethic, and exemplified leadership skills. I requested the coveted assistant manager position of green tag. To go from being a worker bee in a uniform with a white name tag, to moving up in rank to the first rung of management was a leap and very rare. I was only 18 years of age, but I wanted everything that came with that little green bar that was worn on my left lapel - respect, freedom, better pay, and the power that comes from management.
It was a huge mental shift. The week before I was in a uniform and now I was wearing the ubiquitous casual street look of all Hershey Park managers: A Polo shirt neatly tucked in, khaki pants and extremely comfortable dress shoes. No hat. Nothing screams Preppy louder than a blond haired guy in khakis.
Through a mix-up, my green tag hadn't shown up for about 2 weeks. So here I was out of uniform in what looked like manager's clothes but without a tag to prove it. Strange as it seems, the people I had worked side-by-side with all those years while in uniform, didn't respect me once I appeared outside a booth in regular clothes. No one listened to me, nor did they do anything I requested without rolling their eyes. Beyond the frustration of having to do everything myself, I was working twelve-hour days in sweltering 95-degree heat.
Today I understand what I would have done differently as my wife always says, "We teach others how to treat us," and I would have been much firmer. I was 18 and inexperienced, but I at least had a small amount of wisdom. I asked my fellow managers how to handle the situation, and their suggestions became invaluable throughout the years.
Eventually my green tag arrived and those who had been insubordinate, suddenly had a newfound respect for me. The green tag made my position real. Over the next two years I learned the basics of leadership - never connecting the dots until years later - that served me well at the helm of my own companies.
I know what it's like to rise through the ranks. It can be rewarding and rich with experiences. It can inspire jealousy in some, admiration in others. Either way, things never stay the same, and like it or not, the decisions are on your shoulders. But, always remember that it is a two way street between management and the work staff - You can't get any work done without them and they entrust you to see the bigger picture. Quid pro quo.
So what advice can I give to those of you who are rising into management positions from within your own organizations? Here's a quick word of advice through 30 years of hard knocks:
First: Realize that just because you are a manager doesn't mean you have some how magically obtained the skills to lead. That takes time, effort and a little humble pie. To be a leader you have to wear the consciousness of a leader. That means, you have to own it.
Second: Although you may be good at the job that earned you the promotion, you may not be the best leader for that department. Everybody knows your weaknesses and your secrets, therefore respect in the new position may take a very long time. That's why the military moves a newly promoted soldier to a different platoon. Peer groups don't see their former colleague as a part of the hierarchy.
Third: To obtain the knowledge of leadership start studying it. I read books like How Great Generals Win, or The Art of War, or Leadership 101. Emulate the leaders you admire... Jack Welch, Carly Fiorina, Steven Jobs, etc...read their books and learn. Some act like entrepreneurs and others act like executives and you can learn from the best while you're at it.
I hope that helps. I've made plenty of mistakes over the years but I have dedicated myself to learning more.
Thanks for reading,
The Art & Science of Leadership
The Art & Science of Leadership
Creative Director • Designer • Author • Workshop Facilitator • Keynote Speaker
Former Dot Com Executive and Baby Boomer Brad Szollose, is an award winning leadership strategist, author and professional speaker who shows people managers and entrepreneurs how to win big in the Information Age.
For more info, go to http://bradszollose.com
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