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Over the course of my work life, I have had a few managers that seemed to hate me. In particular, one manager, whom we’ll call “Steve,” seemed to have it out for me. At the time, I wondered if he stayed awake at night thinking of ways to make my life miserable and to crush everything that I thought he would appreciate.

My Best Manager was Feared

When I began working as a parts manager for AutoZone, Steve was a district manager that was responsible for oversight of 40 to 50 stores. He had a reputation for striking fear into those that reported to him, and that included me—even though in management hierarchy, Steve was five levels above me.

My fears were validated one summer day in 1992. Steve visited our 5,400-square foot store on North Church Street in Burlington, North Carolina. This little auto parts store, at the time, was one of the highest volume stores (in sales) in the state.

Despite our ability to sell more than many larger stores in more populated cities, Steve came to pick on me. My store manager Dave was busy with Steve that morning, reviewing store sales and giving an update on store personnel. Once they finished their business, they called me onto the sales floor. Without asking me any questions or how I was doing, Steve said, “This store is filthy.”

You can’t even imagine how I felt knowing that we spent three very long days trying to get the store ready for Steve’s visit. But there he stood, saying that the store was filthy. And Steve was not done. Because of the store being dirty (in his mind), Steve said that I needed to work on cleaning every day until he returned to inspect it.

I was scared and mad

I thought to myself that this blind fool hated me. I wanted to know right away when he expected to return. I was scared and mad—on anxiety overloaded. I did not know if I was going to stay or tender my resignation.

But I controlled my impulses and got to cleaning. The first week of my unjust imprisonment was a cooling-off period. The store was open seven days a week, so I had plenty of time to cool off. And by the third week, I was running out of things to clean. The store was only 5,400 square feet, and the walls were closing in on me.

The fourth week flew by and I thought I would never be let out of this prison. That’s when I was told that Steve was going to return to inspect my work next week. Thank goodness.

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By the time Steve walked through the door, I had worked 32 days without a break and was anxiously awaiting inspection. He didn’t even look around to see if the store had been cleaned. He just left. I was so upset that I didn’t even know what to think. Was I going to have to continue to work until he came back in a few weeks? Was I quitting? Was I fired? “That’s it, I’m done with this craziness,” I thought to myself.

Totally unexpected

That’s when my manager came to me and said that I have been given a new job and a raise, if I wanted it. Several thoughts ran through my head: I was being promoted? Are you kidding me? Was this some type of rite of passage? Was my loyalty being tested? What was all of this about?

Looking back on this now, with more than 20 years of hindsight, I think about the real lesson: perseverance. I learned to overcome. I learned that I am stronger and more resilient than what anyone can inflict upon me. More importantly, I learned that I was ready for bigger and better things after that. It was a real gift.

Ultimately, I do not care if Steve hated me or not. I never did speak to him about my torture (learning experience). He moved on and so have I. What I do know is that sometimes we need a “Steve” in our lives to help us learn about what we can truly accomplish. We need leaders that are willing to challenge us—not coddle us. Because we just might find our prize on the other side.

Written for the Association for Talent Development – www.td.org

About Jim Rembach

Jim Rembach is a trusted advisor, speaker, and thought leader. He is a certified Emotional Intelligence (EQ) practitioner, contact center auditor and employee retention specialist, and holds a US trademark for the “Servant Teamwork®” leadership and organizational transformation methodology. Jim hosts the long running Fast Leader Show and sits on numerous boards.

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