(Photo credit: Wall Street Journal online)
John, how are you doing?
Hey Bruce, I haven’t seen you in forever. Things are great.
No, really. How are things going?
Fantastic! Call me next week. We should go to lunch. Oops, I’ve gotta go bus that table. Things get crazy in here at lunch time.
Bruce can be forgiven if he doubted John’s claims of how good things were going. Bruce had worked with John at Intel in Seattle, where they were both financial analysts. Both were let go in a round of layoffs.
Now, Bruce sees John in a downtown restaurant bussing tables. What would you think? John is my younger brother. He told me during the conversation he didn’t even think about how it would look to Bruce.
What Bruce didn’t know what that John was actually the CFO, Chief Financial Officer for that restaurant chain. The executives thought it was valuable to occasionally work at the service jobs that made up the bulk of their workforce. Today John was bussing tables, tomorrow he would be back in his office on the 14th floor.
I had a similar experience during one of the times I was working as a consultant. I’ve explained that consulting is like Feasting on Brownies. . .Every Three Weeks. In other words, when you work, the money is great, but you have the down times between contracts. During one of those down times I was helping a friend who has a landscaping business. He spends a good portion of his time mowing lawns. He has these fantastic Husqvarna walk-behind mowers that practically mow themselves; easy starting and all wheel drive. I wanted to trade in my car on one, if I could figure out how to get seats for 13 kids.
Rodney, we’ve got some lawns to do in your neighborhood. That’s not going to cause a problem is it?
Not at all. Not unless we end up taking away one of my kids’ clients.
I just wasn’t sure if you’d be embarrassed if you ended up mowing the lawn of someone you know.
I appreciate your concern. But, if someone has a problem with the car you drive, or the clothes you wear, or the job you have, that’s really their problem.
It made me think about John and his busboy experience. Too often we label people by their positions. As Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof explains,
It won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong. When you’re rich they think you really know.
I check myself on this occasionally. Do I give more weight to the opinion of people with more money? Or a bigger title? Or a nicer house? Do I discount the opinions of someone who works a manual labor job instead of works in an office? Or who drives a 10 year old car? Or who takes my order at a restaurant? I hope not. And I hope you don’t either.
Because it might be the company CFO bussing your table. And it might be a high priced computer consultant mowing your lawn. And even if it’s not, the people who are filling those roles are every bit as capable of having great ideas, or being generous or kind. And aren’t those the criteria we should really be evaluating people on anyway?
Rodney M Bliss is an author, blogger and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children. He has worked as a busboy, a gardner, a company president, an Executive Vice President, a stable boy, a Program Manager, a team manager, a trainer and a host of other jobs.