For many years, I worked for a large, corporate coffee company. I held every position from Barista to Store Manager to Coffee Equipment Service Technician, until being laid off in 2010 along with all of the other Service Techs. By the time I was laid off, I had about twelve years of service with this company, much of that time in a leadership role of one sort or another. I have had many supervisors and managers along the way, but most did not really know how to lead. They were task managers, not leaders of men or women. A leader, I have come to understand, is committed to the development of the people he or she leads, even more than to the accomplishment of the tasks themselves.
After several years at the aforementioned coffee company, I first promoted to Store Manager. During a good part of my time as a Store Manager, I had a particular District Manager who made a strong, long-lasting influence on me as a leader. He was direct, stern, and to the point. Anyone who worked with him knew exactly where they stood at all times, for better or worse. He had a clear sense of right and wrong that shaped his leadership style, in a way that made him seem passionately unforgiving of mistakes in both himself and others. He just wanted things to be right, but he would do anything in his power to help you to achieve this standard. He spent many long hours coaching and training his managers to be impeccable and unimpeachable as leaders.
Some of my peers saw his character as unnecessarily harsh, but I saw someone who held us to the same standards to which he held himself. I respected him for his honesty and sincerity. Part of this likely comes from the fact that I have lived my life confused by the subtleties and nuance of human interaction. I have a difficult time comprehending, on an emotional level, the implied needs of others and translating those needs into actionable information. Therefore, when I come across someone who is explicit about his or her needs and wants, about the rules of our relationship and the means by which I can help us find success together, I find great relief and comfort in that.
What this man taught me about myself was how I most successfully interact with the world. I learned that I thrive in environments where the rules and parameters of success are clear. If I know what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and why it needs to be done, I will always figure out how to get it done. However, my emotional inference filter is broken. When I am left to infer meaning from vague, emotion-based standards, I get confused and frustrated. I shut down and withdraw, defaulting to being isolative and anti-social. By being utterly and consistently transparent, this man gave me a framework by which to be successful. Under this man’s leadership, I always knew what needed to be done, when it was to be completed by, and why the goal or task was important. This clarity and structure of purpose allowed me the mental-emotional space to be creative where it mattered.