For those who aren’t fans of old movies, a brief synopsis of the movie, “Stella Dallas”: A low-class woman is willing to do whatever it takes to give her daughter a socially promising future. You’ll see why I mention this movie at the end of this blog.
Mitch was doing his duty. He and his table colleagues had shown up for the retirement party for Maxine in the company cafeteria. Sarah was almost in tears talking about Maxine, and the obligatory gift was being given. As Maxine was making her speech, Mitch was looking around the cafeteria, a recent memory coming to mind.
The previous week, Mitch had to walk through the cafeteria on the way back from a meeting. There he saw another retirement party underway. Like Maxine, the honoree had been at the company quite a long time. The cafeteria was jammed with well wishers for the employee. The air was filled with animated voices, punctuated by raucous laughter. The guest of honor had pulled over Mitch and twisted his arm to have a piece of cake. People were in great spirits and enjoying the time, the company, and each other’s remembrances.
It was a very different scene for Maxine’s party. Where the other party filled the cafeteria, this party barely took up a third of the space. Indeed, if it wasn’t for Maxine’s co-workers, who knew they had to attend or feel Sarah’s wrath, the attendance would have been, to put it kindly, sparse. There was no animated chatter, no raucous laughter, and no hint of joviality. It was mechanical, and the people dispersed as soon as they thought it was safe.
Looking upon the two celebrations, one of the conclusions that someone could make was the degree of respect and affection that people had for the two honorees.
To be fair, Maxine’s job wasn’t the warm and fuzzy one. She had the job of meeting with employees who were having issues with their managers, and employees who had to be disciplined. She was also the one who would process the firing of people from the company. Still, this could not be used as a blanket excuse for the less than robust attendance.
One of the wisest pieces of advice I have ever received is that a person has to be judged not only the the ‘what’ they did to get their job done, but the ‘how’ as in how they performed the job. Did they do it by steam rolling over everyone else? Were they collaborative, or where they rude? Did they look out only for themselves and their own goals, or did they take someone else’s time and needs into consideration.
In Maxine’s case, by a good many people’s opinion, the ‘how’ Maxine performed her job was the cause of so few attending this party. Maxine was known to support the highest ranking person in the room, whether that person was right or wrong. This left many simple employees in the company dreading a call to Maxine’s office because they knew they would not be treated fairly. Maxine wanted to be considered a friend to management, and would bend over backwards to make that happen. Even Maxine’s own colleagues in her department would always look out for the bus Maxine would push them under if it were advantageous to Maxine. This is why Sarah had such affection for Maxine. She could always count on Maxine to support her, no matter what the decision.
None of this seemed to phase Maxine. She accepted her gift ‘from the company’ with grace, shed the appropriate tears, and thanked ‘everyone’, especially Sarah, for all their love and support. Those who applauded might have done so only because she was no longer going to be there to deal herself the most advantageous cards from the deck.
The movie Stella Dallas is, for all intents and purposes, a tearjerker movie designed to be a soap opera before the medium of television came along. In it, Barbara Stanwyck does everything and anything to ensure that her daughter has everything in life, and alienates everyone and anyone along the way. In once scene, Stella throws a fancy party to ensure their status in higher society. She goes to greet her guests only to find out that nobody is there. She has thrown a party and no one has attended.
As a manager or a leader, always think of the ‘how’ you are doing something. Is it simply for your benefit or for the benefit of those you lead. If it is simply for your own benefit, that’s not leadership. It is selfishness, and something that should not be in your leadership curriculum. It will wind up with not only an empty room for your going away party, but also empty looks in the eyes of those you lead and half their energy going into preventing that knife in their back. If that is what your idea of leadership is, be honest with yourself and get yourself a title change. The new title? Mercenary.