The valuable lesson I learnt from washing pots

It was never about the money

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I recently read an article at Forbes about the value and importance of compassion in leadership and suddenly realised why I do what I do.  I coach leaders to lead with compassion but after reading this article, my mind suddenly took me back to the age of 14 to the point I learnt a valuable lesson.

As I was driving in my car earlier, I felt it necessary to talk into my voice recorder on my phone to recall that memory and bring it to the forefront of my mind and see what else I could remember.

Here’s my story

Many many years ago, my friend worked at a local independent hotel and restaurant as a waiter, he was tall and fitted the role well as a 14 year old and told me he could get me a job but I wasn’t given the same opportunity and was offered a role in the kitchen as a pot washer.

This was my first job and as I learnt the ropes, I felt a connection with the waiter and waitresses as we joked and laughed.  Sometimes if there was some food left on the plate like a piece of steak or some chips, I’d quickly eat them before taking the hose and washing off the remains into the bin and sink.  A perk of the job some may say, a disgusting habit some may say but at that moment I didn’t care.  I was enjoying the job.

The manager popped her head in every now and again and as this memory came flooding back to me earlier, her mannerisms, tone of voice and impact on others became crystal clear.

She was a dictator, a bully.  A person who likes to throw her weight around and talk down to people.  I guess I unconsciously made a note of this which led to an event that affected me for the better.

It was a bank holiday Monday and I arrived for the evening shift, eager and ready to go until I and the other dish washer walked into the kitchen and saw a mound of plates, dishes and cutlery waiting for us.  Were we expected to wash these up?

The manager came in and told us the afternoon shift had failed to turn up so we had to wash all these.

I remember thinking that even though the afternoon shift hadn’t arrived to wash the pots, she clearly had time to do it herself.

I conversed with my friend and said there was no way we were going to wash those up so she offered us double pay but I wasn’t in it for the money.  This was about respect and being treated right and even at that young age I knew this wasn’t how you treated people.

That was my last day as a pot washer and as I arrived at my gran’s house who lived around the corner and told her what had happened, she quickly told me I was right to stick up for myself.

Fast forward to the present day and over twenty years experience in various roles, observing, analysing, absorbing and learning, I realised there will always be ‘dicks’ in leadership roles.

I’ve been a victim of bullying in the workplace, I’ve seen the affect poor leadership has on others and it’s not right.  It just isn’t right!

Who gives any human the right to treat others as a number for their own gain, to use as buffers when the sh#t hits the fan and to ignore the human need to feel valued and worthy?!

Leaders, when they learn the value, relevance and power of showing compassion, will quickly realise they can influence and motivate their team quickly and effectively.

I believe you have a choice as a leader, be a dick or show compassion.  If you’re a dick, I don’t want to know you but if you’re able to understand the value of compassion then you’re at least on the right path.

Thank you for taking time to read my story and if it has intrigued you, I invite you to read the article in Forbes below…

You can find the article here

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