Leadership and Taking out the Trash

By | November 30, 2018

[November 30, 2018]  One of my jobs as a 14-year old teenager, and where I learned many lessons, was taking out the trash at a local restaurant.  David Hackworth once said that “It’s human nature to start taking things for granted when danger isn’t banging loudly on the door.”  That’s exactly the way it was one day when a wall collapsed at the restaurant trapping four employees in the storage room under a tangled mess of debris.

There are some things you need to know about this job of taking out the trash.  I unexpectedly learned that “trash” can be heavy (e.g., food waste, broken utensils), no one wanted the job, you were the low man on the pole and got every task no one wanted, and everyone made fun of you.  I knew the trash would smell but compared to picking up cow manure; trash is perfumed.

All of us were going about our jobs; the cooks on a smoke break between meals, waitresses sitting at a table chatting, and me … starring at the waitresses.  We were all in mental defilade, including the restaurant manager; our brains on idle.  I’d just sat down near the cooks and after taking out an unusually large amount of trash minutes before, we heard a loud rumbling sound and screaming.

 “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” – Arnold H. Glasgow, American businessman

None of us thought a thing about the water leaking into the storage room or the rotted wooden support beams.  None of us thought anything could happen.  All of us were taking for granted that all was well with a building built in the late 1940s.  In the aftermath, an investigation by the local fire chief showed no maintenance on the structure had been done despite building code deficiency reports.

I learned a few things that would stay with me and help make me a better leader.  As Glasgow said, leadership means recognizing a problem before it’s too late.  It also means taking action to solve the problem, do so right away, do it without using too many resources or making people angry unnecessarily, and without interrupting your mission.

The four employees weren’t hurt seriously. We learned that our manager was not very good at taking care of us because he had ignored warnings about the building’s problems.  And, we all lost our jobs that summer.

Oh, and one last thing I learned.  I didn’t want to do this job for the rest of my life.  Just like picking up cow manure, these jobs helped drive me to get a better education and join the U.S. military.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “Leadership and Taking out the Trash

  1. José Luis Rodriguez

    The Little People are not the ‘Little People’ so says Gen. Satterfield and rightly so. If you’re taking out the trash, mopping the floor, or any other menial task you are not to be judged by it but by how you behave as an individual. I’ve known bad people who are leaders and great people who load boxes onto trucks. Remember this the next time you stiff a waitress or ignore a homeless man on the street.

  2. Mr. T.J. Asper

    I went back and searched for your series on these jobs and printed them off. Next week, I’ll be showing my HS students.

  3. Martin Shiell

    ‘Taking out the trash’ and what a great topic. At first I thought you might be writing about deadbeat people. 🙂
    But I see the title is exactly what you mean. I’m sure you did learn some lessons. One of them is that this is a job you didn’t want to do and that provided motivation for a young man to get an education and go into something else. I’m sure you’re happier now for it.

    1. Scotty Bush

      On the other hand, most of us despite hating those jobs would never trade the experience for anything. The value was great even when we didn’t like it, the poor pay, or the fun people made of us. We great in character.

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      You beat me to the punch on making this point, Scotty. Yes, I would never trade for the experience and although I hated the jobs, I got a girlfriend out of one of them. I’m married to her today. Win WIn !!

  4. Dale Paul Fox

    I worked on a pig farm and had to clean out the feeders, remove waste, help the farmer vacinate the little ones, and many other dirty jobs. I figured out quick that I like it and now own a small farm in Vermont. That is why doing odd jobs for little money as a kid can help you out in life.

  5. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    Like many of us here, especially over the age of 40, had many jobs like those identied here. Those jobs paid little, no one respected you for it, and some were dangerous. But the value of life’s lessons can never be compensated. This is why the minimum wage has eliminated many of them and thus removed the opportunity for teenagers and young adults to learn valuable lessons.

  6. Joey Holmes

    I really liked your article today. Thank you. My dad told me to say cheers to your from our family.

  7. Wilson Cox

    Your short series on jobs you had as a teenager and the lessons from them are a nice read for me. I also have my son, who is 12 years old, read them too. He enjoys them and often laughs at your trials and tribulations. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield.

  8. Janna Faulkner

    Loved it. Is there a job you didn’t do as a kid? Just joking. I know that these low-paying jobs were more valuable to learn to be a better person than the money earned.

  9. Army Captain

    Enjoyed your lessons from this “invisible” job. Great Friday entertainment also.

    1. Len Jakosky

      Yes, this article does hark back to another one that Gen. Satterfield wrote a few weeks ago.


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