The first job I ever had was at KFC. I was 14 years old and 6 months. The youngest legal age to work here in Australia. I had actually gone in with a mate who wanted the job and put in an application as a bit of a laugh. I got the job and he didn’t. The work was fine, cooking chicken in a greasy back room under cold flickering fluorescent lights. I have no idea why they would give a punk 14-year-old control over huge vats of boiling oil and food safety for the general public.
The manager there was a horrible prick of a man. A 50-year-old, red-faced brute who was angry at the world and his place in it. He barked orders at us like a rabid dog, he loathed his team and thought he was above everyone and everything. We thought he was hilarious. We treated him like a substitute teacher, banging on his office door then hiding in the walk-in fridge. Throwing wet rags at the industrial bug zapper so it would shoot sparks and make a hell of a noise, then screaming about giant flying spiders. It was epic fun for a 14-year-old. Oh, not to mention all the fried chicken we could eat.
Ok yes, we were little shits.
My point is that my first experience with management was not positive. Old mate did not command our respect. He treated us like shit from the moment we stepped into his greasy little office and we reciprocated. I knew instinctively from that time that you could never gain someone’s respect by screaming at them or playing the ‘I’m the bloody boss’ card.
I worked a ton of jobs before I ventured into business on my own and for the most part, I had terrible managers that tried to lead by brute force. There were a few exceptions – Isha Mehta showed that you can lead with authority but maintain a calm, mindful presence and gain the respect of your team. I was 10 years older at that stage but probably no less of a shit!
When I started hiring, I had no management plan but I knew instinctively that the respect of your team is earned, not given. If you are not down in the trenches when things get tough, no one is going to have your back when push comes to shove. Leading from the front means just that. Taking ownership. Guiding gently. Sharing the glory. If old red-faced mate had been out in the kitchen showing us the ropes and perhaps helped clean down the greasy ovens with us a few times perhaps we would have treated him differently.
I am not sure if I got the boot from KFC for eating too many cheesecakes, or just left because the fun turned into drudgery. One of the two. I do know that the terrible experience I had there helped shape some extremely positive ones in the future!