Recently, I was asked about my first leadership experience. I view this as extremely different from my first official management position, which is a story for another day. My first leadership experience happened the summer before college. My very first job was a Grocery Clerk at a small First National Supermarket two towns over from my home-town. I was not a manager, supervisor or lead; but rather a Grocery Clerk, one of about ten young men working together.
Our job was simple, but still critical to the operation of the grocery store. We were in charge of loading the merchandise on the shelves for customers. Once loading was completed, we had to clean up the aisles and make certain the shelves looked neat and clean for our customers. We arrived to work each day to go back to the loading area and there would be carts stocked up for us to take onto the correct aisles of the shopping floor. To some, our job might have seemed mundane and trivial, but our customers were all regulars and they depended on our efficiency to buy food for their families. In addition to stocking shelves, we also bagged groceries whenever it got busy. This was my favorite part because it provided an opportunity for customer contact and a chance to perform great service such as taking groceries out to the customer’s cars and helping them load their vehicles.
Let me state the obvious: this was a minimum wage job that paid $3.46 cents an hour. It was the lowest rung of jobs at a small local supermarket. Each of us were required to wear a dress shirt, tie, and store apron, as well as steel-toed work boots because of the carts of groceries. There were aisles we liked better and others like frozen foods which were not so much fun. We also had a manager who was not a leader at all and not a good manager. I remember the staff complaining about the Grocery Manager and while I recall him not being a great leader, I also remember seeing a much larger opportunity.
This opportunity I saw was helping my fellow grocery clerks. I provided support and friendship and always offered my help unloading their carts. I also helped the cashiers up front by thoughtfully bagging the groceries and walking them out to the customers’ vehicles. Even at a young age, I knew I was being a part of providing world class service at a small grocery store. As a 17-year-old, I honestly did not know much about management or leadership. Even though I did not have a strong manager, this did not mean we had a bad relationship. Our relationship was relatively pleasant: he gave me instructions and I followed them.
In terms of my leadership, while I didn’t know that I was being a leader, I knew that I wanted to take care of my co-workers and be the person to help them be safe and do their jobs. I often spoke to the other grocery clerks to help keep up morale. It was interesting because other departments soon started seeking me out as well and many wanted to work on our team. I also loved serving our customers, many of whom I knew by name. Some of my most fond moments were working with our customers! We had friendly banter, I’d help them reach for items on the top shelves, and naturally, I’d provide expert counsel in terms of cereal choice.
I thought of the supermarket as our chance to make a strong impression on customers. Serving a customer’s needs actually made me feel good. After all these years, this feeling has not changed. The feeling one gets from doing a job well and making a difference never gets old. It also demonstrated that we as individuals controlled our own destiny. Our manager gave us tasks, but how we handled these seemingly mundane jobs made the difference to many people. I know that our service was what made many folks shop at our store. Our prices were actually higher than the large supermarkets, but our service was more personal. We were their local store, something constant in an ever-changing world.
When I think back on my career, this is the job where I learned the most about leadership. My first job! This job has never made it onto my résumé, but it is a place I reflect on very fondly. I also learned that my manager would never define me or hold me back. At the same time, through great and poor managers, I never once have complained about my assigned manager. Instead, I look to care about all those I come into contact with on a daily basis. I look to help others with their jobs and assignments and remove a layer of stress. I recognize that all people need support and friendship. I also realize that serving others was going to be my life calling. In every position that I have ever held, I look at the job description as the minimum requirement, not the only requirement. What I am trying to do is bigger than all of this. Serving others makes a difference to the company where you work and the customers that you are fortunate to serve.
At the end of the day every business exists to serve a customer. I think about my earliest dealings with leadership at that first job. I think of waking up each day with nothing but opportunity around me. About 10 years ago, I was at a marketing technology industry event when a man approached me to introduce himself. I worked with him at The Washington Post and he confessed to me that I had the greatest impact on his life. I was humbled beyond belief and I realized that helping those around me and service is the impact I am choosing to make.
At iFrog, we are striving to disrupt business as usual and instead transform the way our client’s businesses are run. We have outstanding technology and sophisticated marketing solutions. At our core we are a business composed of people helping other people. People, not numbers or technology, are the most important part of our business. After all of these years I am still serving all those around me with humbleness and honor.
Myself and my team at iFrog look forward to serving you and please drop me a line if you need anything at email@example.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @iFrogCEO!
Be a pirate, have a great day and lead with courage! #ifrogmarketing, #ifrogtechnology, #pirates, #PiratesForChange