Connecting The Dots

Last night I had an awesome event for Loss Prevention Magazine. At dinner, I met a young lady that worked for Kmart/Sears and we struck up a conversation. I explained to her that I had a unique relationship with her company, and asked her if she knew what the K in Kmart stood for. She said, “I don’t think so.” I explained that just like Sam Walton was the Wal in Wal-Mart, S.S. Kresge is the K in Kmart. And as I told my story, the dots came into focus!

S.S. Kresge—now there’s a name and a brand you might not be familiar with! It was a five and dime. Ok, I might be going way too fast for some of you. Five and dime stores were the forerunner to the discount stores of today. Before Wal-Mart became Wal-Mart and Kmart became Kmart, there were hundreds of small brand stores like Woolworth’s, Ben Franklin’s, and Kresge’s. Every town had them, and they were a part of Americana right down to the little diners inside.

Kresge’s was my first place of employment. I remember going in to apply for an after-school job and being told they didn’t need anyone. Didn’t matter. I just kept going back. After the third time, the manager looked at me and said, “Are you coming tomorrow to ask again?” I said, “Yes!” He smiled and said, “Well, you might as well come to work if you’re coming anyway.” That job was my first experience with retail; it set my course for where I am today in more ways than one. I worked there through my junior and senior years of high school as one of two stock boys. James, the other stock assistant, seemed to always get the cool jobs. He pulled lay-aways and took things to customers’ cars. Older than me, he never had to clean up the diner or do inventory. I found out later, I was assigned those tasks because the manager trusted me. When I was preparing to leave for the military, the manager invited me to go to work as part of his team for the new store, Kmart, as his assistant manager. I thanked him for his kindness. But, little did I know that Kmart would play another role in my success: military, college, teaching, supervising, working, selling, entrepreneurial endeavors, university positions, and transitioning into speaking and training. I found myself in a world of travel.

Now, I’m good at some things, but travel in the 90’s was complicated. Anybody can book today, but my travel was, let’s just say, interesting. So, I had a travel agent do the planning for me. Her name was Michelle. Michelle was wonderful. I would give her my calendar and she would magically make it happen. I relied on her; and to be quite honest, I tried to hire her to not only do my travel but run my office. She would always smile and laugh and tell me she loved her job, but in a polite way, she would say, “No.” But, just like my first job, I kept asking. One day, I had a large travel month scheduled and drove downtown to visit with Michelle to get my tickets. To my horror, she wasn’t there. I’m not talking about out of the office for the day, but GONE. And all they would say was that she left and was no longer there. I was devastated. She was so easy to work with. I muddled through with someone else, but it wasn’t the same.

Now, fast forward two months later. I am walking into the Kmart in West Hills in Knoxville, Tennessee to get some printing paper for my printer. I had been in that store maybe three times in my entire life, and as I am walking out, I see Michelle. I was so excited! “Where did you go?!” She explained she had gotten into a working rut. She had been working eighty hours a week, and she had become overwhelmed. I said, “Well, how about coming to work for me?” Again, she started to turn me down, but I could sense some movement. We met that weekend and discussed her salary, and the rest is history.

A mere 20 years later, she is still taking care of me. I have struggled over the years on how to explain to others Michelle’s job. I find myself referring to her as my office manager or my executive assistant—but she is so much more than that. She is my personal assistant, business partner, advisor, protector, friend, confidante, sister, and life coach. In a way, Michelle is much more important than I am in our business; and, as many of you know, logistics is by far the most complicated thing that enables us to do what we do. She makes it look effortless.

It really pays to stop and reflect when we have success in life. Taking the time to look at the journey and marveling at how everyday commonalities help us connect the dots. Here are some dots you will want to give attention to:

  1. Yes, you did the work, but did you have help? Take time to be grateful. It’s never too late to go back and tell someone how they affected your success.
  2. If team members connect with your clients, bring them along by talking about their contributions. Your team may not always travel with you. However, talk about what they do and visually insert them into your processes so your customer has an understanding of their role.
  3. Communicate with those who support you. They might be in an office hundreds of miles away (like Michelle), but describe to them what’s happening. Draw a line from your success to them!  As my mentor, Dr. Ben Bissell, told me, “The same movie needs to be playing in both of your heads.”
  4. Do the high five! When you hit a home run and have a win, thank them, praise them, credit them, include them, be their advocate.
Michelle. you have enriched my life and made my complicated business a joy. You make my load lighter, my job easier, my life less complicated, and you help me succeed. You are so much more than a team member. You aren’t a dot—you are the the star! 

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