The Misguided Mentor

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“No one told me about Tuesday’s and Thursday’s,” John said. I had just entered the stairwell on my way down to the housekeeping office to find him. He was a brand-new manager, having started the week before.

“It’s nice to see you too,” I said extending my hand. He took it and smiled. He looked frustrated. John and I had worked together years ago in finance, and when he lost his job a month or so earlier, he reached out to me for help. I knew he had management experience, which is a big plus, but I still hesitated because this is housekeeping management and I wasn’t sure if he had the chops for it.

“Sorry,” he said and without any further provocation from me, continued to complain. “But no one told me that I was going to have to do the floors on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he said again. “And, I thought I was supposed to work only seven and a half hours a day and now I’m working eight…” I cut him off by raising my hand.

“John. John. John. Let’s not talk in the stairwell,” I said and headed down to the housekeeping office.

“Yeah, but do you think it is right for a manager to have to clean floors on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he continued as I pushed through the downstairs door.

“Yes,” I said. He looked exasperated. I walked faster, took in some air, and tried not to show my own exasperation.

Something bad happens to [some] people when they get promoted to management. One day they are the best worker you ever had. They are always willing to come in early, stay late and always get their jobs done. They have high standards, get along with co-workers and everyone loves them. They are an easy and obvious choice for promotion.

Then they become the Manager and suddenly, they are too “Good” or “Important” or “Special” to do any sort of physical labor or get their hands dirty in any way. Instead they want to sit in their office and quite literally become the manager they always complained about and hated.

No matter how much I talk about it before I give a promotion, or hire a new manager, it is the number one issue I deal with. Ego.

To be honest, I shouldn’t be too surprised that it has happened to my friend John, but I am. This is not his first time being in charge and I know he is a hard worker, but…

“Ralph’s here.”

John had reached the housekeeping office a step or two in front of me and he sort of half whispered the announcement. I arrived a step later, just in time to see another manager, Bill, jump up from behind the desk, stuffing a cell phone into his pocket. He may have even had his feet up. I glared at him.

“Ralph! How are you doing,” Bill said, startled. I assured him I was doing well, and we shook hands.

“What are you doing here,” I said, both surprised and uneasy at the sight of him.

Bill has been with the company for just over a year and had just recently been promoted to an area manager. He said he had been spending a few days a week with John, training him. I took in some more air. Bill is a very likable guy. He is tall, handsome, and well-spoken. The problem is Bill isn’t the best manager; he is a complainer and worst of all, thinks that he too, is too good for housekeeping. I looked at John and then back at Bill and it all started to make sense. I shook my head not believing my luck. “It’s like the blind leading the blind,” I thought but didn’t say.

“You should have seen this carpet when I first got here,” John said pointing toward the floor. I looked down despite myself.

“Yeah, we had to go over it a bunch of times just to get the coffee stains out of it,” Bill said.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought. “Of all the things to work on… the carpet in the housekeeping office should be the last thing.” I leaned against the wall, stuffing both hands in my back pockets, a move I learned from a friend who said he spoke softer when his hands didn’t move. It works if you can keep them there.

“I thought you didn’t like doing floors,” I said sarcastically. John looked up, mouth open; hands spread apart, head tilted. Bill laughed.

“I told him that it was good that he had to do floor care,” Bill said. “At least this way he’ll become good at it.”  John looked at Bill and then at me shaking his head. “That is not what he has been saying,” his look said. I nodded.

When I was in the Marine Corps, I was moved from the 3rdBattalion, 2ndMarines to the 2ndMarine Regiment. Geographically, the move was less than a city block, but it couldn’t have been any more different than if it was a different branch of the military for an entirely different country. The 3rdBattalion, 2ndMarine Division was full of hard charging, motivated Marines. The 2ndMarine Regiment was not.

The Regiment, I found, was a transition unit and there are only a handful of reasons why Marines got sent there. Either they are assigned to work there (like me) or they had just arrived from boot camp and were awaiting orders, or more commonly, they were in the process of being discharged.

Most Marines finished their enlistment with the unit they were assigned to. If a Marine was transferred to the Regiment for discharge, however, it was most likely because of an injury, drug use, a disciplinary problem or more commonly a combination of the three. These Marines were more than just disgruntled employees, they were broken, angry and some could be downright violent.

“You are going to see a lot of Marines that are attached to this unit are both injured and pissed off or they are in trouble and are pissed off,” Fist Sergeant Wright said on my fist day at the Regiment. “They are unmotivated and undisciplined, and they will try to suck the life out of you and any new Marine that walks in here. Therefore, it is imperative that we make sure our new Marines have as little contact as possible with our Regimental Marines.” He looked at me raising an eyebrow. “Capisce?”

“Capisce,” I said. I was told that I was being assigned to the Regiment to assist with the processing of new Marines; I had no idea that I would be spending most of my time trying to make sure the old Marines wouldn’t be influencing the new Marines.

I thought about that now, leaning against the wall, listening to Bill saying how good it is that John must do the floors on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s.

I pushed away from the wall, releasing my hands. “Guys listen to me. This is a housekeeping management position and we employ housekeepers. Now it seems to me that you both think that being a “Manager,” I say raising my fingers in air quotes, “means you get to sit in this office all day. You don’t.

“This is Housekeeping management and you are working managers, because you have to be. There is way too much going on up on the units for you to be able to spend any time down here, scrubbing a carpet that no one cares about.” I put both hands up, stopping them from protesting. “There are plenty of things to scrub up on the units. Trust me.

“John, you are in a job position two days a week. That is a financial reality. This facility is way too small to have extra hours on those two days a week that your floor tech has off. It is not just this facility; it is all facilities this size. I do not know why you were not told this from the beginning. You should have been, and I apologize.

“But more importantly; guys. If you think that you are too good or too special to roll up your sleeves and do actual housekeeping, then you are in the wrong position and you should probably quit.” They both looked at me blank faced.

“I’m not kidding,” I said. “Pack up your gear. The only thing worse than being a housekeeper, is working for someone who thinks that they are too good to be one…” I was cut off by an overhead page for housekeeping.

“I have to go see what that is about,” John said the minute the request ended. I let him go. I looked at Bill for a few minutes and then unfolded one of the metal chairs I found tucked behind the door and sat down.

“It’s easy to share your frustrations,” I said to him once I got settled, “especially to another manager.”

“I don’t have any frustrations,” Bill said in defense. “John complained about having to do the floors the first time I got here.” I nodded, listening to him.

“I’m not talking about the floors Bill. I’m talking about how you are sitting here in this office, setting a bad example for John, the staff, heck even the other department heads. It’s no secret that you want to get to the next level. Heck, it’s no secret that you think you are too good for housekeeping,” I shrugged. “Maybe you are,” I said, and he worked hard to stifle a smile.

“The problem is, from what I hear, is that you are going around saying if you don’t get promoted soon you are going to quit.” It was Bill’s turn to nod, but he didn’t say anything.

“You should want to get to the next level Bill,” I said catching his eye. “Everyone should want to get to the next level. But I’m going to tell you something, if you want to be in the position to hire, train and manage housekeeping managers (housekeeping managers who, just yesterday were the hardest working housekeepers that you treated like they were beneath you) then you’re going to have to get over yourself, stop walking around here like you’re better than everyone else and most of all stop complaining. You’re going to have to get off your butt, get out of this office and you’re going to have to start realizing that you are setting the example.

“Managers are just like everyone else; regardless of their skill level and experience they will always follow their leader. If they are managed by someone who sits in their office all day, then they too will think it is only fair that they get to spend all day sitting in theirs. If they have a manager that comes in late and leaves early or calls out all the time, then they will too. If they have a manager that complains all day, then they too will complain…”

“I get it,” Bill said holding up his hands.

“I hope you do,” I said. “Because you were sent here to mentor John, to show him how to be an effective housekeeping manager; and all these habits he is learning, he is learning from you. Think about it like this; if you get promoted tomorrow John is going to become one of your managers. And I bet that you would want, heck, I bet you would expect him to be one of your best managers.” Bill smiled. “You trained him after all,” I said with another set of air quotes. “I bet you would want managers to work hard. They type that spends as little time as possible in their office. Someone who actually spends time up on the floor, making sure their building is getting cleaned at all times.” Bill held my gaze. “Am I right?” He nodded.

“Then that is the kind of manager you need to be.” I got up. “Now let’s go look at the building,” I said, and we did.

POSTSCRIPT:

John quit and Bill got promoted. Being a housekeeping manager proved to be much more than John had signed up for and four weeks after our conversation he quit, without notice, and I don’t blame him. Not wanting to be a housekeeper (even if it is in management) is not a new problem; no one wants to be a housekeeper.

I don’t know if John would have stayed any longer, even if the situation wasn’t soured by Bills lackadaisical approach. I’ll never know. What I do know is that what we project, as managers, is what we get back. Bill, now in charge of that account as a District Manager, continues to struggle with filling that position.

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