I was 18 years old when I entered my first supervisory position at a restaurant in Winnipeg. I had worked hard to master the many aspects of working in a kitchen and was often left performing various aspects of inventory control, cost controls, menu development and a whole host of interactions with staff and vendors.
At the time I believed my career as a chef was well underway and that I was instrumental in the ongoing success of the organization. In hind sight, I was also naïve, over confident and was overburdened with such a sense of entitlement that at times it blinded me. In light of that, imagine the surprise I felt when my manager at the time told me, “Colin, you need to work on your people skills.” My first thoughts were, “Seriously? I have tons of friends! I have great people skills!” Today I can only shake my head and laugh at the inexperienced nature I approached the world with back then.
In light of this, my manager explained to me how at times it seemed I was confrontational and unwilling to consider the perspective of others. I was steadfast in the rules and unwilling to bend. I was sometimes regarded as someone who worked great on his own but didn’t always have the people skills needed to work in a team. It was difficult for me to hear this and even more difficult for me to understand how this could be true.
It was during this conversation however that my manager kept referring to a book he had just read and in order to learn the concepts that he was trying to explain to me he asked that I also read it. It was called “The 7 Habits of the Most Effective People, by Stephen Covey.”
I took the message I was getting to heart and read the book with the intent to further understand what my manager was trying to explain to me. I was going to show him that I could understand the perspective of others and this book was going to help me understand his. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I would find myself truly identifying with the content of the book and in the end recognize exactly what my manager was talking about. The most interesting aspect of it all, was that in the end not only did I understand what my manager was saying, and why, but I also agreed with him. I needed to change.
And so, I had already accomplished one of the lessons I learned from Stephen, “Seek first to understand, Then be understood.” I realized that without taking the time to understand what others perspectives were I was closing them off from being able to communicate with me effectively. Now that I understood what my manager was trying to explain to me, I was able to engage in a great conversation with him that assured him my working relationship with others would improve.
I grasped on to the concepts of working “interdependently” with others and forming “win-win” situations in order to enhance the teamwork within the kitchen. I started thinking in different ways by taking into account the big picture impact of my decisions and actions. I started creating goals with plans to achieve them rather than living on the whim of whatever circumstances were presented. For the first time in my life I was consciously making decisions “with the end in mind”.
I found that my decisions were clearer when I considered the larger impact they might make and it allowed me the ability to prioritize my work with understandable explanations. It was only weeks after fully embracing the concepts I learned through Stephen’s book that I had become more consciously “proactive” in my thoughts, behaviors and communication with others that a true synergy formed within our team. The sometimes combative nature we used to have within the restaurant turned away from what we couldn’t do together to what we could achieve together if we tried. We truly worked as a cohesive unit within the organization and the “interdependence” we had formed allowed us to work successfully for a long time to come.
It was when my manager followed up with me 30 days later to express his delight over the changes he saw take place I recognized just how much more there was in the world for me to learn. Perhaps at 18 years of age I didn’t know everything after all? I thanked my manager for letting me borrow the book and went and bought a copy of my own.
Every now and again I pick it up and browse through it as a reminder of the incredible impact this book and its author had on me in my career, and as a person. It’s a reminder to once in a while, “sharpen my saw”.
Today, I was reminded of the ever lasting impact Stephen Covey had on my life again when I learned of his fateful biking accident that resulted in his demise at the age of 79. He never knew how important his work was in influencing my life but forever will I appreciate the dedication he had to helping others in his.
My thoughts and prayers are with Stephen’s family and friends along with the many others who found themselves inspired to great heights through Stephen’s work. Thank you Stephen, you will always be remembered.