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Leadership Lessons—Labor Day

Labor Day. Parade, hot dogs and hamburgers, the unofficial end of summer and beginning of school. That is how I remember it.

Until I looked up that actual history of the holiday I didn’t realize that Labor Day is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. On June 28, 1894 Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.

I’m sure you are like me in describing you work life. Some of my best and worst memories in life are centered on work. On the other hand, most of my leadership lessons in life came from the jobs that I’ve had over the years.

For this week’s article I want you to go back in your memory bank and think of the jobs you have had—and perhaps the bosses you’ve learned from—good or bad. I’ll do the same to get you thinking.

One of my first early jobs, when I was seven or eight years old, was sitting on the steps of the ice cream store next door to our house and cleaning out the huge carton of ice cream. It’s the same type of carton you saw when you went to the Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors store as a kid.

The owner of the store was trying to be nice to me. Not being very bright, I got a spoon and starting cleaning out the carton by digging the ice cream out and whacking the spoon on the steps until I had all of the ice cream cleaned out—and now on the steps. I was so proud of the job I did until he came out, saw the ice cream and the ant brigade scurrying to the ice cream, and explained to me that he wanted me to eat the ice cream. It was that day I learned how to clean off the ice cream on the cement steps until it wasn’t sticky anymore and the ants were gone.

The leadership lesson learned? Be kind to people when they make mistakes. You don’t want them to repeat their mistakes—but you don’t need to be a jerk, either.

Memories.

My first real job was making popcorn at the outdoor theatre in Rockford, Ill. Probably the same reason I love theatre popcorn to this day. I wasn’t 16 yet, and my mom had to drive me to work each night and pick me up about midnight. My dad had died a few years before and I didn’t realize how much she was helping me. That same summer I got my driver’s license and got my second job—cleaning up the outdoor theatre at 8 a.m. the next morning. You can imagine what I found. I became an expert at cleaning bathrooms, picking up what-you-can-imagine and getting the facility ready for that night.

The leadership lesson I learned? Hard work gives you what you need. Stuff like gas and insurance for your car and dating money. Oh and that 1962 Chevy Biscayne I was able to buy was a real steal for $200 with the money I saved.

In 1973, with a baby on the way, I had to get my first adult job as a trainee for General Finance Loan Company. Talk about lessons! Very quickly I learned the value of paying bills on time. I had a manager who also taught me to never be late and to take responsibility. He also taught me to not look for help on tough decisions, and that it was “hair in his head—not hayseed.” (Hopefully you’ll understand that phrase much more than I did at the tender age of 19.)

After seven years, being robbed, threatened by customers—including one kick to the groin—and three kids later, I was blessed to get in the franchise business at the age of 26.

Leadership lessons I learned there? Don’t judge people. If you take out a loan be responsible. If life happens and you can’t honor commitments, be upfront about them.

The next 36 years are a blur looking back. I was downsized a time or two, divorced a time or two, moved to a new state a time or five. But I finally found the perfect company, have the perfect wife, and have a lifetime of memories all surrounding this word called labor.

I cannot begin to describe all the leadership lessons learned, and the leaders I’ve had who taught me so much (good and bad). My fondest memories come from leaders I try and emulate to this day.

Leadership Lessons—Who Cares?

If you are a sports fan I’m sure you’ve already heard all the hubbub about 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the National Anthem last Friday night in a preseason game with the Packers. Apparently, this is all about the United States’ treatment of racial minorities.

He told NFL media after the game, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

I have strong opinions on this. Very strong. Remember, my son is a combat medic and will serve a tour in Jordan in January fighting for freedom so that Kaepernick can say stuff like this. Most importantly, I respect what our fourth President, James Madison, said when he penned the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Isn’t that cool. Our founding fathers understood there would be Kaepernicks in the world and made sure we supported them.

This week’s leadership article really isn’t about Colin Kaepernick’s or my wife’s favorite team—the 49ers. (She was in San Francisco during the glory years with Joe Montana.)

This week’s article is about the fact that true leaders understand that the world doesn’t care what they think about on political issues!

I loved Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the character Jeff Spicoli played by Sean Penn. Granted he is a great actor, and I don’t care what his net worth is; who he is voting for or his political persuasion. In fact, my second favorite thing about Sean is his ex-wife Robin Wright. I loved her in Forest Gump and Message in a Bottle. Guess what? I don’t care about her political views either.

Another political activist actor that comes to mind? Angelina Jolie. The two things I like most about Angelina are her husband and her dad. What I like has nothing to do with her, her movies or her political thoughts. In my deepest thoughts, I want to ask her husband, Brad Pitt, what it was like to be married to Jennifer Aniston. But I better stop right here!

Her father, John Voight, has about a million great movies. However, I don’t care about his views, either, when it comes to politics, religion, or where I should live or work.

Back to Kaepernick and any athlete, movie star or anyone that thinks it is important they make a statement.

I am your fan for one reason—for what you contribute to your profession. (Okay, except for the Angelina thing with Brad.) If I were a 49ers fan I would care about one thing—if you are a good quarterback. Unfortunately, it is obvious that you are more focused on making a statement than completing a 4th down and 5 pass.

I hope those of us who are leaders or potential leaders understand that our opinion and our political views are important to a very select group of people. Our employees don’t care. They care if we are good bosses.

Most don’t envy us. Maybe they don’t even like who we are. But, they want to make sure we are leading our companies so they have a good job in the future.

You got to love America. The land of opportunity. The land of the First Amendment. The land of brilliant people and leaders who wrote our Constitution and the Amendments to ensure freedom of speech. Now, go out and focus on become the starting quarterback again.