[July 1, 2018] As a teenager, I had a number of odd jobs that paid little, low prestige, and often came with risk of harm. One such job was selling fireworks; much like we see as the 4th of July celebration approaches. These jobs taught me about leadership in ways you might not expect.
Learning is often done by doing. Some jobs require complex reasoning, while others like handling fireworks require a steady hand and common sense. That’s why selling fireworks in Texas as a 16-year old requires you to get permission from your parents; which I did not do. But the summer was good to me anyway and none of my relatives found out what I was doing to earn a few bucks.
Mike Browder owned a fireworks stand just outside the city limits of Abilene, Texas where it was legal to sell them. I worked pretty steady for about three weeks for Mr. Browder; a man who was missing two fingers (from errant fireworks) and a leg (from the Korean War). He taught me some fundamentals of leadership despite trying to ignore his advice.
Here are 10 things Mr. Browder taught me about leadership and being successful (although he didn’t call it that):
- Do things that others don’t want to do; especially things they don’t like to do.
- The most important person in selling anything is the customer.
- Don’t be afraid to go a little above and beyond the call of duty.
- Knowledge is power. In selling fireworks, learn how to pack explosives.
- The job, its owner, and the customers don’t owe you anything and probably don’t care either.
- Work smart, not hard and use your common sense.
- Know that you will be tested at all times on how you handle everything, so be ready.
- Don’t pretend to know things you don’t.
- Safety is not first, a good sell is first.
- Don’t brag about your accomplishments.
Mr. Browder was no hero and not a very good businessman. I never knew why and neither did I care at the time. Several years later as I was attending the U.S. Army Infantry Course, I thought about those times and wondered what might have happened to Mr. Browder. His lessons had stuck with me and were an important part of my successes later in life.
Thank you, Mr. Browder.