[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.