[August 25, 2019] In my pre-teen days, a small group of friends and I worked stocking shelves in a local Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store. Billy was my best buddy and he was the “boss.” But we never saw the real boss; the store manager. The manager was the ghost leader; a name that employees had given him.
“When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” – idiom by unknown
“Ghost leader” was an uncomplimentary, pejorative term. The store manager was not well-liked anyway and perhaps that is why he was never around to guide or oversee our work. For me, it was great not having an adult looking over my shoulder. Plus, we had time to waste time in the back storeroom and kiss on some of the girls. I liked the job and left only because school started back.
Everyone has experience with this situation. Most places of business, hospitals, and government offices, you will rarely see someone who is in charge. Those people are hidden, out of sight, for reasons unknown to me. I always imagined that leadership meant being seen and heard. That is why my type of leadership always involved walking around, getting to meet people, and hear what they had to say.
This kind of kick-the-tires, hands-on leadership is the best way, in my opinion, to show who’s in charge and permeates confidence in the workforce. I can’t imagine it any other way. This past weekend, I was in a local gift shop. The employee at the counter couldn’t answer my question on a piece of jewelry I was looking at, so I asked for the store owner. “Oh,” she said, “the owner never comes in.” So much for getting my simple question answered.
The U.S. military has a tradition of establishing a line of succession for leaders. In all missions, they make it clear who is in charge if the commander is killed or injured. Someone has to be in charge and when in combat there is little time to sit around and figure who would be the best person to step up. That is why there is a list that everyone knows. That person also knows it and has the responsibility to be familiar with unit operations and the commander’s methods of leading the unit.
Looking back on my time stocking shelves, I see it fondly but only because I had a good time and made some extra cash. But what I didn’t learn was what the experienced store manager could have taught me. That will be lost forever.