Your Potential? Or Theirs?

by | Leadership, Resources

janitorBack in my college years I supported myself through multiple part-time jobs.  One was working in the Housekeeping Department of a hospital.   Be a ‘janitor’ for a while – it provides some interesting perspectives on life and people.

For example, when I cleaned the Pharmacy Department, where people were still actively working during my evening shift, I was amused by their apparent inability to get trash in the trash cans.  Their culture seemed to be one of throwing stuff in the general direction of a waste can – and as long as it fell somewhere in the vicinity that was OK.

Right or wrong, that left me with these impressions.  That the pharmacists were busy people with important jobs.  Too important to be concerned with whether that trash made it into the trash can.  Because there were janitors like me whose job it was to pick that stuff up.  Whose job it was to do the menial tasks, leaving them to do what was really important.  They never said that to me.  In fact, I don’t know that anyone in Pharmacy ever acknowledged me or spoke to me.  I just felt it.

But I had a different perspective on my job.  When someone with a highly contagious and deadly disease was moved from an isolation room, it was often my job to suit up in the equivalent of a haz-mat suit and go into that room to clean it before it was occupied by anyone else.  Thoroughly.  Every surface.  Every possible place that might harbor the disease and spread it to another employee or another patient.  I took that job seriously.  I didn’t see myself as ‘just a janitor’.  I understood that my role included helping to prevent the spread of diseases from one person to another and to minimize the possibility that a patient in the hospital would contract an unrelated infection while there.  I didn’t see those tasks as ‘menial’.  I had connected what I was doing to the mission of the organization I was working for.

The lesson here?  Too often people classify some positions as ‘entry level’.  We might think of some people – like janitors, housekeepers, waiters, cashiers, receptionists – as passing through a job on the way to something else.  Perhaps because we don’t view the job as all that important, can’t envision doing that job ourselves, or even think it is beneath us – we can’t imagine anyone else choosing it as a career.  But I believe that we need great janitors.  And waiters.  And receptionists.  People who are dedicated to doing those jobs very well.  Who don’t see them as ‘just a job’, but who understand their role in the entire organization and take pride in that.  Watch Undercover Boss.  You might marvel at the dedication of people in “entry level” positions.

So as a leader / manager, when you help people find their own potential, let it be theirs, not yours.  Don’t assume that you automatically know what is best for your employees.  Ask them.  Don’t assume that everyone wants to be promoted beyond what you define as entry level.  Maybe that person loves what they do.

Help employees be heroes in whatever positions they chose.  And help every employee, in every position, to understand the importance of their role to the whole of your organization.   In order to do that, you obviously need to first value those positions yourself.



Vertical Performance, Inc.

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