One of my favourite activities to do when I’m facilitating a workshop is to ask the participants about the worst Manager they’ve ever had. I get them to share what this Manager did in small groups, and the room quickly fires up as people compare their workplace war stories. After several minutes, I bring them back to discuss as a group what the impact of that manager had on the workplace and how it made them feel. Sadly, there’s never a shortage of stories when I ask this set of questions.
Then I ask the group to think about the best manager they’ve ever had. The group is normally quiet for a few moments, that is until one, two or three people speak up about the great bosses they’ve had, and as a group we talk about their impact and how it made them feel. Unfortunately, there is never as many “best” stories are there are “worst” stories to share in any group that I’ve facilitated.
I then open the workshop with “How do you want the people that you manage to think about you? What impact do you want to have? One day when the people that you manage are sitting in a training session like this one, how do you want them to talk about you?”
I feel incredibly fortunate to say that it’s easy to share stories of good managers, because in amongst a few duds, I’ve had some amazing ones across the years. But it’s often the first best manager I think about a lot. You see I landed the jackpot when I was 15 years old and got a job at my local McDonald’s because I got to work with a manager called Jim. You can’t be what you can’t see and lucky for me I got to see and witness Jim on a lot of my shifts.
Jim was a hard worker, he never expected anyone to do more than what he was willing to do himself. Jim had high standards for both himself and everyone working with him on that shift; he was tough, fair and consistent. Jim knew it was important for work to be fun and at the appropriate time, he never missed the chance for a good laugh. Jim was results driven, he set goals, big ones and small ones, and rallied all of us around those goals.
But the one thing that stands out more than anything else about Jim was that he was the best coach I have ever witnessed in action. He never let an opportunity pass to have a coaching conversation with a crew person or a more junior manager. He wanted everyone to do their best and be their best. And he did this by asking questions… I mean non-stop, he asked questions. He hardly ever told you anything, he would ask you question after questions until you worked it out. Sometimes it would be infuriating but it’s how he grew talent and it worked, we were a top performing store in revenue, profit and QSC (Quality, Service and Cleanliness) results.
As a crew person, I loved rocking up to my McDonald’s shift and seeing that Jim was there. I felt energised when I knew he was in charge, and I was more determined and focused to kick butt that shift. When I got the promotion to crew trainer, I did my best to emulate how Jim coached people and I took real joy in seeing someone master a new station, knowing that I had done my bit to help them succeed. When I left high school and started studying, I was promoted to Assistant Manager and just about every shift I ever worked for the next 2 years I would ask myself “what would Jim do?” when faced with a challenge or obstacle.
I think about Jim a lot because I wonder where my career would have gone without his influence. I believe that I got a running start from a young age thanks to him. I believe one of the reasons I get great feedback on my facilitation skills is because I learnt from the best at such a young age and thanks to him, I’m just hard-wired that way. I wonder if I would have the passion I have now for my business Human Experience, where we’re all about shifting behaviour to change results had I not worked for Jim?
I will never underestimate the power of a strong manager and a strong coach thanks to Jim. I believe the ripple effect is endless and that a simple and well executed coaching conversation can change the course of someone’s path.
It’s been more than 20 years since I left McDonald’s and spoken to Jim, and I still find myself asking “what would Jim do?”
Nic McClanachan, September 2020