Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Leadership (03/14/05)
TITLE: Green and Mean
By Cheri Hardaway
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Worry etched Joe’s brow, while his face sported its perpetual frown. Freshly graduated, he had secured his position at Bergmon’s only four months ago. He knew employee morale and company profits had dropped since he’d come on board. Was the owner questioning the wisdom of hiring a greenhorn?
Rounding the corner, Joe saw his elderly secretary down the hall. She was speaking with a co-worker; she liked to help everyone. Everyone but me, he thought. Didn’t she realize that she was wasting time and money? He felt his stomach tighten as he clenched his teeth.
Drawing nearer, he heard her speak some comforting words to the younger woman. Pointedly clearing his throat, he announced in a business-like tone, “I’ll need you in my office as soon as you have a moment, Mrs. Swanson.” He nodded curtly to the other woman.
“Yes, sir,” Mrs. Swanson replied, following Joe Green.
Mr. Green’s words had been in the form of a polite request, but his tone and his manner issued an order. She knew she was in for another of his tongue-lashings. She had come in early and worked through lunch, taking only a short break, in hopes of having a few spare moments to talk with the troubled Jill. She sighed, knowing he probably wouldn’t allow her an opportunity to explain that to him.
Bracing herself, she entered his office. “You wanted me, Mr. Green?” she asked of her boss, who was young enough to be her grandson.
“Come in and close the door,” Joe clipped.
Complying, she tried again, “You wanted me, sir?”
“What I want,” Joe barked sarcastically, “is for you to quit flapping your gums and get some work done around here!” Before she could explain, he dismissed her, snarling, “Forget it. Get back to work.”
Thinking she could use a couple Tylenol and an apology, Susan Swanson quietly closed the door to Joe’s office and returned to her own desk. Even though this young man was severely lacking in the people-skills department, she could see the makings of a good manager beneath all his rough edges. She prayed for him.
The call came about an hour later. “Mr. Green, it’s Bob Bergmon on line two.” The secretary wondered if she’d done the right thing.
“I’ll be leaving early today,” Joe grudgingly informed Mrs. Swanson. “I have a business dinner with Mr. Bergmon.”
Joe fretted as he drove to the restaurant. This was it. He was sure. I can’t make my people produce, and I’m losing the company money. Why should Mr. B keep me on?
The two men shook hands. After a moment of small talk, Mr. Bergmon got straight to the point. “Susan asked me to talk to you, Joe.”
“Your secretary. You don’t know her first name?” Mr. Bergmon looked astonished.
Ears burning with humiliation, Joe realized he had never even asked the elderly woman her first name. He cared only that she did her job and made him look good. He steeled himself for the inevitable.
Seeing his fear, Bob rescued him. “Susan did not call me to complain, Joe, though she has just cause,” he gently scolded the younger man. “She sees great potential in you, and she asked me to talk to you about how you relate to your employees.”
“When your predecessor, Mr. Todd, retired, many of these people almost went with him, but Mrs. Swanson convinced them to at least give you a chance. She said you shouldn’t be penalized because of your youth and inexperience and that you would learn to be a good manager too. I agree with her.”
Joe could only stare.
“A good leader, Joe, makes people want to follow him. A desire to follow is born out of a relationship. I sense that you may feel uncomfortable relating to your staff on a personal level. Many people feel that way, Joe. People need leadership, and good leaders rise to challenges. No one likes to be treated condescendingly.”
“Thank you, sir,” Joe managed.
The two men enjoyed the remainder of their meal, while Mr. Bergmon tutored his young protégé in some possible ways to repair the mistakes of the past four months.
At work the next day, determined to begin earning the respect he had been given but had not deserved, Joe asked Susan Swanson to forgive him, before he made his next request. Beaming, Susan quickly compiled the list of first names for Joe.
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