Monday, March 15, 2010


One of the most difficult lessons to learn in management is that one cannot be friends with one's subordinates. One can be FRIENDLY but never FRIENDS!

In 1979, I thought that my favorite employee, Jim, was my friend. He gave me 100% production and excellent quality every night. In return, I helped him with his classes after work; I made sure that he had everything to make his job easier; I even gave him costly gold welding shields although he wasn't eligible for them as they were designated for people with vision problems; I allowed him to have a "bank" which was in violation of the Contract, and my husband and I attended his wedding and gave him an expensive wedding present. We did not socialize outside of work because that was certainly frowned on by higher management, which I learned was for good reason. However, my husband and I would oftentimes be at the same functions as Jim and his wife and we would spend time together.

One night, as usual, I was hurrying, making sure that everyone was settled on their jobs. As I passed Jim's station he yelled, "Hey, Suzy, the crib didn't have any long welding gloves." I said, "I'll find some." During the fast-paced first half-hour of the shift, I had made sure that everyone had been taken care of and I had also gone to other welding stations to see if anyone had an extra pair of long welding gloves. As I passed Jim's station, he lifted his welding hood and gestured toward his short gloves and I said, "I'm still looking." I went to the adjacent department and asked the Department Head there for the long gloves, but to no avail. The next time I passed Jim's station he yelled, with some irritation, "Hey, I'm still waiting." I said, "I went to Department 22, I'll check the other departments." I radioed other departments, called the Main Crib; I did everything that I could think of to do to locate long welding gloves for Jim. None of the other welders asked me for the long welding gloves, although they all favored them.

The next time I saw Jim he took off his welding helmet and threw it down on the floor, breaking the expensive, gold welding glass. He screamed, "Get my Steward NOW!" I naively asked, "What's wrong?" He was livid, his face was red, and he shouted, "Listen, Lady, the sooner you learn that my safety is the most important thing in this world then the better off we'll both be!" I was hurt and shocked and I responded by throwing my clipboard on the floor and screaming back at him, "I have been everywhere in this damned plant looking for long gloves for you and you act like this!" I reminded him of all the favors I'd done for him and then I told him "I even got that gold welding shield for you and you weren't eligible for it." He said, "Just get my Steward!" He resumed welding and I went to check out the Steward (whose nickname was "Seaweed"). "Seaweed" asked, "You two having a lovers' quarrel?" I asked, "What's that supposed to mean?" He responded, "Well, you'll have to admit that Jimmy is your favorite." I answered with a great deal of hauteur, "I don't have any favorites--I treat you all the same!" He laughed and said, "Suzy, you're a fair person, but everyone knows that Jimmy is your favorite." "Seaweed" went to talk to Jim and he returned to my office and said, "Just get your son some long welding gloves and everybody will be happy." I said, "I've looked for the gloves everywhere--nobody else is complaining." "Seaweed" said, "Everybody else knows you've been looking for the gloves, but you wouldn't be running around like a chicken with it's head cut off if it wasn't for Jimmy, but your Jimmy is special, doncha know?" I had a very "harmonious" relationship with the Steward and had never had a grievance, but I was humiliated by his perceptiveness. When he left he said, "I'll bet you've learned a lesson tonight."

The Main Crib called me and told me they had located the long welding gloves. I brought them to the department and handed a pair to each of the other welders, but I didn't hand a pair to Jim. At break time I surreptitiously placed a pair on Jim's fixture. When he returned from break, he looked around to see if anyone were watching, and sheepishly put on his long gloves.

Our relationship was never the same. Jim continued to provide me with the same high-quality, 100% performance, but the camaraderie was gone. Jim continued to work for me for another year and then I was transferred to another Department. My brother had transferred into my Department and I had to go to another Department as the Company did not allow family to work together.

Twenty years later, in 1999, I was the Department Head on Second Shift and Jim came to work for me again. One night, after work, he came in and asked me if I would write him a Letter Of Recommendation as he and his wife were trying to start a home for troubled teens and they needed to be certified and Letters of Recommendation would help. I told him I would be glad to help and I mentioned that I was surprised that he had remained in manufacturing after he'd received his degree. He told me he was never able to locate anything that paid as well with the same benefits. Jim said, "I'm sorry that I was never man enough to apologize for being such an A-hole back in Department 28." I said, "But, Jim, I learned a valuable lesson--YOUR safety should be the most important thing in the world!"

I told him that I had used that incident as a role-play in a Supervisory Training Program I'd helped develop in the 1980's for another company, especially for use in union manufacturing situations. I dug in the file cabinet and got out the manual and showed him the role-play which was entitled, "FRIEND/FRIENDLY--WHEN THE SUPERVISOR LOSES HIS/HER TEMPER". I asked him to read it and then I asked, "Is it as you remember it?" He said, "After that happened, I got razzed a lot about being your pet, but I knew we couldn't be friends any more, but I missed you when you left." I told him that the whole situation was my fault and that I had learned a valuable lesson as "Seaweed" had predicted. Jim said, "Maybe when we retire, we can be friends."

1 comment:

Mona Lisa said...

"The lesson's too late for the learning"--Tim Hardin song