Vic dropped out of high school, which is how he found
himself in his late thirties in a succession of menial jobs. He went back to
school to get his high school diploma.
I don’t mean “adult school” and a GED. I mean he went to high school during
the day, while he worked nights, and sat in class with children the same age as
his. He wanted to do it right.
That same passion to do things right and inner drive made him successful at a
lot of things. He was an expert cabinet maker, a marathon runner, and the best
shade tree mechanic and household handyman most of us ever knew. He had a lot to
With his new high school diploma, Vic’s experience and excellent references
got him a full time job at the big plant in town. He always said it was funny
that the company only thought he was qualified after he got the diploma. That
was his first lesson. You have to fit the model.
His second lesson came during his first month on the job. Vic made a
suggestion to his boss about a way the mechanics could be more efficient. His
boss wasn’t impressed. “They pay me to listen to people who wear ties,” he said,
“and they pay you to listen to me, not the other way around.” The lesson was
clear: only people wearing ties could make suggestions.
A new, young management trainee taught Vic his third lesson. The trainee was
rotating through jobs and his current job was dispatching mechanics like Vic. A
unit at the other end of the plant called to report a problem. The management
trainee assigned the job to Vic, who went to the parts crib to check out some
“What are you doing?” the trainee asked.
“Getting some parts for the job on the other side.”
“You don’t even know what the problem is. Go diagnose it and then come
“I’ve got a good idea what it is. We get that call about once a month. If I’m
not right this time, I’ll check these parts back in.”
“That’s inefficient,” the trainee told Vic. “You’re going to do this right.
Go analyze the problem. Then come back and get any tools and parts you need and
go fix it.”
Vic nodded. He thought about mentioning the inefficiency of making two trips
when you could make one. But, he’d learned his third lesson. From that day on,
he didn’t quit thinking, but he quit sharing his thoughts with the company.
Vic worked at that plant for twenty-five years. For twenty-five years he
worked hard and did his job well and by the book. His work ethic wouldn’t let
him do less and his discipline made it possible. But he stopped taking his
creativity to work. I wonder what opportunities his company missed because of
Boss’s Bottom Line
Great bosses listen to their people and treasure good ideas and suggestions
wherever they come from.