People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.
It was 1994. I was processing claims for a large auto manufacturer with a prominent third party administrator. I had taken the job (more specifically, begged for the job) which was “beneath” me based on my experience and skills, but I really needed a job.
Funny how having kids make working a necessity!
I thought I was going to be on the fast track to management with upward mobility, and claims was just a foot in the door. Two years later, there I sat…processing 1,000 claims a day.
I know what it is like to be in a “dead end” job.
With all my skills and talents, why was I still sitting there? I asked myself that almost every day.
The 300 person operation was run by an old school authoritarian director. I am not blaming him for my plight, but he was an autocrat, morale was low, the door revolved and people did “just enough for the city”. Just enough to keep their jobs hi before a better onecame along. At one point, we had a major claims backlog and he came out and addressed the team.
“If we don’t get this excess inventory of claims down in 60 days, I will clean house and let all of you go. There will be no overtime and accuracy better remain at current levels!”
And then…he walked off.
The water cooler talk began quickly, the cliques circulated their brand of dissension. The negativity was thick and the talk acerbic. There was even talk of a walk-out. Normally, I kept to myself on that job and typically played my Walkman CD (hey, I said it was 1994!) to block out the “noise”, but this time I joined in.
“What does he think? That we can make ‘bricks with no straw’? He must be crazy!
As I got a few “Amens”, something on the inside of me hit hard. Call it guilt, conviction or my naturally optimistic disposition, I felt the pull of instincts say,
“If you don’t have a solution, shut up and don’t join in with the crowd!”
In an epiphany, I decided that I would create a solution. I spent the weekend working on a plan for eliminating the backlog and things that might improve the environment. On Monday, I went into the Director’s office and laid it out for him. It was five pages of spreadsheets, bulleted paragraphs and a timeline.
He grumbled and said, “We have a plan, now go back to work.” Remember, I said he was dismissive!
Two days later, the supervisors came out and laid out a plan for catching up the backlog. As you might have guessed, it was my plan verbatim; Teams awards, bonuses, daily recognition, and a systematic, quantifiable strategy for getting us where we needed to be.
I never got credit. I was never promoted.
You might think that I was angry, Yeah, I was. But looking back, it was a major turning point in my life.
In the midst of my anger, I decided to write another document. I had saved up and bought Personal Power by Anthony Robbins and in his goal setting workshop, I wrote 2 paragraphs that would inform the next 18 years of my life.
I wrote what I would do if I were ever in a position of leadership.
My chance came about a year later. I ended up taking a job in 1996 with the company that was bought by United HealthCare. I was given a sales job with Medicare and then became a manager, supervisor and director – all in a period of 12 months.
I looked at that tear-stained page just the other day and recognized the 10 qualities that I wanted to exhibit if I ever got the chance to be a leader. The title?
If I Were King Of The Forest!