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Getting Schooled on Serious Matters

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Bob Priest-Heck
Bob Priest-Heck

President and Chief Operating Officer, The Freeman Company Chief Executive Officer, Freeman

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Early lessons in leadership – #2

Here’s another lesson in leadership... from when I was just a punk kid running housekeeping for a major hotel chain.

One of the supervisors who worked for me came in to complain that a housekeeper I personally liked was acting out: not putting washcloths in the rooms and generally being belligerent. I knew this was not normal for her. She was a great person and a hard worker who was obviously having a bad day. But I pulled up my boss pants, called her into my office, and told her in a stern voice, “this is serious.”

She then put me in my place by explaining that “what was serious” was being beaten up by your drug-crazed son in the middle of the night because he wants your cash to get his next fix. What’s serious is having to pull a loaded weapon from under your pillow to keep your own child from killing you.

Oh. Right. Like I could even relate to that. I apologized and told her to just go home and get some rest, and I promised to clean her rooms myself — which I did. But to this day, 30-some years later, I wish I’d started that conversation by asking her what was wrong, and what could possibly have happened to make her have such a bad day. Of course, that kind of learning only comes with spending more time on the planet. But it’s a lesson in empathy that I’ve never forgotten.

The next time you “can’t understand” why someone is behaving in a certain way, make the effort to understand. Then formulate your plan. It’s one of those things that distinguishes a leader from a boss.

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