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Your Team Members Don’t Have To Be Perfect
I would like to say that, the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. I believe everyone wants to constantly improve. I believe each one of us is created as perfection; however, the results we create are excellent, so there is lots of room for improvement in what we do. The associates I hired in my bicycle and lawnmower shop like myself, were never perfect; however, they were excellent. Working with them as they improved taught me new ways to show forgiveness, understanding, and patience.
My first employee was in a wheelchair from an auto accident that happened when he was sixteen. I hired him to answer the telephone and talk to customers who came into the store. My second employee had one arm. Word spread that I hired people with physical challenges. The placement officer at a local community college with a rehabilitation school called on my business about hiring people with physical and mental limitations.
One day the placement officer asked me to interview a young man who was having trouble finding a job. He told me that David was a little shy, did not talk much and was afraid to go on interviews. He requested that I grant David an interview just for practice. He plainly told David that I had no positions open at the time and the interview was just for practice.
When David came in for the interview, he hardly said a word. I told him what we do at the bicycle Shop and showed him around. When the interview was over I told him I would keep his application on file. Then I took a few minutes to coach David on how to apply for a job. I told David to keep showing up (figuratively) because the number one thing an employer wants in an associate is dependability.
David was very quiet (he was evaluated as a slow learner in school). Every ten days or so, for weeks after the interview, David walked into the bicycle shop and stood by the front door. He never said a word, just stood by the door. I would tell him kindly, “I really do not have any positions open at this time.” I wished he would go away but he kept showing up!
The shop was a very labor-intensive place to work, with students unloading trucks, assembling bicycles and lawnmowers, making repairs and waiting on customers. I usually had seventeen employees at one time, mostly high school and college students. David continued to keep coming by about every ten days. He never said a word.
One day, shortly before Christmas, a large tractor-trailer backed up to the shop, packed with 250 new, unassembled bicycles. It had to be unloaded right away or the driver would leave, and it might be a long time before I could get him back for the delivery. It was raining. Some of my student workers (without physical limitations) chose not to brave the weather to get into work, so I was short handed. The place was crowded with shoppers. Frustrated customers were waiting to be served. A line formed at the counter.
It seemed everything was going wrong and on top of it, David came in the front door and just stood there. I looked at him and barked, ” Well, all right! Fill out a time card and help me unload this truck!”
David worked for my bicycle shop for eighteen years. His dedication was a model for me. He came to work every day thirty minutes early. He could talk; however, he rarely chose to. He was a man of few words. He drove my truck and made deliveries. He went to the bank to make daily deposits. David would assemble and check out all of the new lawnmowers. The customers would brag about David, saying, “He doesn’t talk, but he really shows you how to operate a lawnmower!”
I got into the habit of looking over at David for advice when I was making decisions. David would nod or shake his head. He helped me make a lot of good choices. Eventually, I let David run the business when I was out of the store taking care of other business.
David was a blessing. I really feel that God sent David to me. I did my best to find David a better paying job with better benefits. However, he would not leave! I learned much from him.
David drove a Corvette. One day a college student employee said, “Mr. Mike, you must be paying David more money than you do us, look at what he is driving.” Within earshot, David heard. He simply held up his lunch bag, implying, “I bring my lunch. You buy your lunch. It is not how much you earn, it’s how you manage your earning.”
I am so glad that David kept showing up. He was my last employee when I retired after 28 years, and closed the shop. I was able to hire over eighty five women and men with physical and mental challenges and coach them into more gainful employment in the community. I would look for what they could do, not what they could not do, as it is easy to find what people cannot do. I was 98 percent successful. I had just a few results that did not work out. I found my associates to be loyal, honest, and dependable. Consciously, I worked to remove their fear of being fired by encouraging them to make business decisions freely and by not pouncing on their mistakes.
I encouraged my employees to constantly look to better themselves, whether it was within my company or somewhere else. I loved to coach them on how to apply for jobs and encouraged them to tell their prospective employers, “Please do not look at my disability.
Look at my ability. Let me show you what I can do. I am honest, I am dependable, and I am willing to listen and learn.” I told my associates if they left me for a better job and it did not work out, they could always come back. I looked for better paying jobs for my employees so I could hire more people with limitations who needed a place to enter the job market. I was blessed beyond my fondest dreams when I hired people with physical and mental challenges. Listening to and learning from them was a bountiful gift sent to me.
Only expectations can limit people. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Your team members are not perfect and that’s okay.
They can still do excellent things. When I graduated from school, I was connected with a group of thirty people that made a pact to stick together for life. One particular girl is the leader. She has kept us all together for years with a newsletter that announces weddings, births, engagements and deaths (3 so far). As years go by, the twenty seven remaining are scattered around the world. Our leader arranges community projects each month for all of us to participate in, no matter where we are located. Our pact is to “hit and run”-we do good without getting credit, which is the whole idea. Knowing that no one knows makes us feel good. It helps me to walk around with a smile most of the time. We have a secret.
One day I answered the phone at my bicycle shop and our leader was on the phone. She said that I was to be in Lafayette, Louisiana that Sunday for a community project. We were to entertain forty abused children. I was to bring potato chips and soft drinks. The girls would decorate the children’s faces, and we would give them gifts and play games. The event was at a oil field playground at noon. The members of the group of twenty seven that were out of town or out of the country had to call a pay phone at the shelter on the playground at a certain time of the day. Everyone had to participate in some way- no matter what time it was where he or she was calling from. Everyone was expected to participate.
When I hung up the phone, I called Tony, who worked for me answering the phones at my store. He had been in an auto accident when he was sixteen and was now confined to a wheel chair. He did not go out much and I thought it would be good for him. He was so happy I called, and his mother said that she would have him ready for nine o’clock on Sunday morning. When I hung up the phone, Kenny, one of my cashiers, asked if he could go with us. I told him not to listen in on my phone conversations anymore! Then I said, “Okay, but you must be in front of the bicycle shop on Sunday morning at ten o’clock because it takes two hours to get to Lafayette from New Orleans.” Born with cerebral palsy, Kenny relied on crutches to walk.
That Sunday morning, I said good-bye to my understanding wife and I picked up Tony. As I drove up to the shop for Kenny, I saw he was with a young man who was also using crutches for support. Kenny said, “This is my friend Richard. I knew you wouldn’t mind if he came along. He does not get out much.” I helped the men get into the back seat of my Ford van, set their crutches on top of Tony’s folded wheelchair in the back, and we were off to Lafayette. Tony, Kenny and I talked all the way to Lafayette. Richard said very little. At the playground, we fixed hot dogs for the children. The girls painted faces and we gave out presents. The music was wonderful. As we say in Louisiana, “We passed a good time.”
On the trip back home, it was starting to get dark as we approached Baton Rouge. Everyone got quiet and rode in silence. I could hear the tires on the road and every once in awhile I could hear Tony, sitting next to me, sigh under his breath, “Oh me.” The silence was creepy. Coming from a family of ten children, I got used to noise. Stationed on an attack aircraft carrier with a bunk directly under the catapult machinery that fired the jets off the ship, I got comfortable with noise. To disrupt the quiet, I said, “Let’s play life boat. This van is a big pleasure boat. A friend of mine lent me his boat for the weekend and I decided to take you guys boating. We cruised out of the marina in Lake Pontchartrain and headed into the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We are now far from land. The radio is not working.
The boat hit some sunken oil equipment, tearing a big hole, and now the boat is taking on water. There is only one life preserver on board.
It will hold only one person. The boat is going down. We are in very deep water. Everyone will get sixty seconds to say why he should get the one life preserver, why he should live. “Since I am responsible for the boat, I will get to go first. My name is Mike Marino. I have a wife and two children and I have five brothers and four sisters who need me. My parents need me.” I started saying things that I had accomplished in my life and that I deserved to live because I wanted to continue serving other people and trying to make a difference in the world. At the end of my one minute, I said, “I vote for me getting the life preserver.”
Then I added, “Tony, it’s now your turn.” Tony, 29 at the time, had been in an auto accident when he was sixteen, drag racing with other teenagers. He had been in the back seat. The accident left him in a coma for three months. I met him in Children’s’s Hospital when I was doing volunteer work. From the time I hired him, I would often go by his house to give him a ride to my bicycle shop, where he answered the phone through a head set. Tony said, “I vote for you, too.” I said, “Tony you have fifty five more seconds to say something good about yourself!” The boat is sinking, everyone is going to die except the one with the life preserver!” Tony replied, “I still vote for you.”
Now it was Kenny’s turn. He was born with serious cerebral palsy; however, it did not affect his speech. Kenny’s mother died of a brain tumor. The oldest of four sons, he helped raise his younger brothers. Kenny, very smart, was my cashier and did all of the warranty paper work for the business. From the back seat Kenny said, “I vote for you, too, because I believe that if you live, you will find a way to come back and save us.” I said, “No, you cannot change the rules, everyone dies, except the one that gets the most votes. You have thirty more seconds to vote for yourself Kenny.” “No, I vote for you,” he said again.
Now it was Richard’s turn to vote. Richard, in his middle thirties with a thick shock of hair like a young Elvis, also had cerebral palsy. His speech was much impaired and he spoke very slowly; still it was hard to understand him. He started out, ” I know that I can not do much because of my handicap; however, I am very good on the computer. I type eleven words a minute with the eraser of a pencil. I do not want to die out here in the Gulf of Mexico. My mother, that I live with and my brother would be very sad. Mother needs me. My brother has a little boy, five months old, and I have a relationship with him. I want to live to see him grow up. If someone would give me a chance, I could work and do good for someone. Nobody will give me a chance. I want to vote for myself.”
One second of silence passed and Tony and Kenny asked together at the same time. “Can we vote again?” I said, “No! Sometimes in life you get only one chance to vote for yourself. You may get rushed to the hospital for open-heart surgery and you may have to sign a paper to allow the surgeons to operate. You cannot say, “I’m scared. Let’s wait.” If you wait you may need a heart transplant instead of just repair. You must always be ready to vote for yourself. Since I am the captain of the boat, I have the right to give my vote away if I want to. I gave my vote to Richard for voting for himself.” And with that I prayed that Tony and Kenny better appreciate the value of voting for themselves.
I knew my accountant would be a little upset because he was always after me for having too many employees, but I couldn’t help myself. I hired Richard. He did my bookkeeping. He did all the accounts receivable, accounts payable and payroll. He typed holding a pencil upside down with the eraser pressing the keys. He worked hard. When I became a Professional speaker, Richard attended many of my presentaions.
After two years he was proud to tell me he had applied for a job in payroll with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Finance Center. They hired him on a trial basis, but on his second day he discovered a major error in their payroll system so they rewarded him with a permanent job. He has since had several promotions and has stopped by to show me his new car.
If you ever saw Richard walking down the street on his crutches, you would think it was impossible for him to drive a car, but he has learned how. When people ask Richard how he does all that he does, he replies, “If you don’t vote for yourself, nobody votes for you..”
I have had the privilege to work and play with excellent, not perfect, people. A long time ago I discovered something about David, Tony Kenny, Richard, and all of the other men and women I have employed as associates: I was not sent to help them grow, they were sent to help me grow. I don’t mean growing my business, I mean growing as a person, intellectually and emotionally. Working with them as they improved their skills and sharply raised their self-value taught me new ways to show forgiveness, understanding, and patience.
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