The only thing ordinary about this particular Friday was that I showed up to work with my phone at 4% charged. Life with teenagers means that a charger is never in the same outlet twice. Car charger mysteriously gone also??
Upon arriving at work, I did have enough charge left to receive one call. A concerned Cintas sales rep who had recently fitted my work team with uniforms was the first to call with the bad news. He asked if I was aware that one of my trucks was in an accident on I-64.
My father and I rushed to the scene to find this.
Our driver, Jeff, had already been taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Jeff is a dependable, honest, Christian brother who has given over 17 years of devoted service to my family’s business. My first thoughts were simply of amazement and thanks to God that his injuries weren’t more severe.
It took only a couple of hours to clean up the scattered furniture and appliances that he was hauling, and load the pieces onto other trucks. As the last of my workers drove away with their loads of mangled merchandise, I remained behind to gather my thoughts.
I knew a logistical nightmare awaited me. People were waiting for me to give them some sort of plan of action to deal with a truckload of severely damaged furniture and a day’s worth of deliveries that needed to be re-scheduled. Maybe I could have have clearer thoughts on the roadside with emergency workers, rather than buried in the chaos of a retail business.
But the thoughts of logistics quckly faded, replaced by waves of emotions. A realization that a very good man that I had spent thousands of days working beside, had nearly lost his life. I was suddenly grateful for a newfound appreciation and respect I’d found for Jeff in recent months. And I eventually came around to my own failures in relationships with other co-workers as I wandered aimlessly around the accident site.
A few years back, Jeff had serious heart problems that required surgery. Upon returning to work, his level of production diminished somewhat due to loss of strength and endurance, along with breathing problems. But he continued to show up and do his job to the best of his ability. I valued him…….or so I thought.
This past summer, Jeff had his personal tools stolen from the back of a delivery truck in our parking lot overnight. When he inquired about the possibility of having the business replace his tools, I told him that I couldn’t take responsibility for what was left on our trucks. And I could tell that he wasn’t happy with my response.
But…….I did share the story with my older and wiser father, let him know that I’d probably hurt Jeff’s feelings. My dad didn’t say much at the time. But after giving it some thought, he left to find some new tools. Before the end of the day, Jeff had a new tool box, filled with more tools and better tools than he had before.
At the end of the day, when I said, “Dad picked you up some new tools”, his simple, sincere answer said so much:
“Yeah, that really meant a lot to me.”
I did value him (but only as far as my narrow heart and mind allowed), but it was worthless because I failed to show it.
I already said that Jeff showed up and gave his best every day. Since that day, the amazing thing is that his “best” is now at a much higher level than it was before. As my respect and admiration for him grows, I find myself searching harder for opportunities for him to use his many strengths, rather than being frustrated by a particular weakness.
Jeff and I talk more than we used to. Talk a lot about how everybody has strengths and weaknesses. Those conversations usually provide a good chance to reinforce my appreciation for the things Jeff does well. And perhaps more importantly, it gives me chance to work on my biggest weakness……finding ways to reveal to co-workers that they are valued as a person first….appreciated.
Because I always get it backwards. “Do your job well (all the time)…..then I will respect you. I won’t ride your tail when you screw up. But I won’t be your cheerleader either. I’m too busy making sure I’m outworking everybody else and holding things together. Forgive me if I don’t have time for chit-chat or group hugs. Just show up and do your damn job.” (I don’t really say this, but I’m guilty of living it).
But good leaders do find time to be cheerleaders. They need to lead with compassion. Every person that you work for, work beside, or that works for you…….is a person. Every person that works beside you has their own personal struggles that you may not be aware of or be able to understand.
Wandering on the side of the road that day, looking at the wreckage, I was reminded that our family business is made up of people that really are like family. And I realized that I have treated some in that family differently based on performance.
Performance levels will always be different. Love for family should not be.
I’m thankful today that Jeff is recovering. I’m thankful for the guiding presence of my earthly father.
And I’m thankful for “quiet times” on the roadside where I can see the guilt of my selfishness and impatience with others, and the need to replace these things with the God-honoring qualities of love and compassion.