I would consider myself a leadership student. I love learning everything I can on leadership and how it applies to my life and the lives around me. One of my favorite books is The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell and to me the number one way to summarize leadership in one word is influence. I didn’t always think this way though. I had to learn that the amount of money you made, your status, your title and the amount of control you are given does not make you a leader. I have spent more time on leadership than most things due to my time at my first job.
For those of you who know me at all you are aware that I worked at CiCi’s Pizza for a little over four years of my life. I have had more of their pizza within that time span then probably everyone I know combined and what’s weird is I would still eat it today. That’s beside the point though. People on my team at work and my family have probably heard enough about my time there but I have a lot to share because I learned so much.
I got a job bussing tables right after I turned sixteen for $5.25 an hour. I got a raise a few months later because minimum wage went up to $5.75. I have always been taught to work diligently, hard and responsibly. I made it a game each day at work to see if I could be the fastest and cleanest busboy on the team. After about six months I was, so I started getting booked for some of the busiest nights and weekends to bus the floor by myself. I enjoyed working hard, even though picking up after people at a pizza buffet wasn’t necessarily an ideal job.
One night about a year into the job, I was doing my thing on the floor – keeping tables open and clean for any other new guests that arrived – and a man called me over to his table. He told me he had been watching me for several minutes and thought I was doing a great job. I thanked him and then he said something I will never forget. He asked if I had an interest in doing more for CiCi’s and learning more about the company. I told him I wasn’t sure but that it could be fun to get behind the counter in some way. He then said if I applied how I was working at that time and asked to learn more while being patient and diligent then I could eventually be running the place. I chuckled and went back to work. When I look back at that moment though, I realize how it drastically changed my perspective of my job at that time.
As I cleaned the next few tables it hit me. Why not work toward running the place? What else did I have to lose? At the close of my shift I asked my manager at the time if I could learn more positions. He was open to it but knew I was also good on the floor and didn’t want to pull me from that just yet. I then got put in the room I dared to never be put alone. DISHES. I was learning how to clean and sanitize everything that got brought back from the dining room floor and the kitchen and it was A LOT! Still to this day I have major respect for anyone who works in the back cleaning and who does this job well. Learning to do the dishes made me still available to be a busboy when others on the floor needed me, but I got to learn a new position.
Months later I learned cutting (which was a lot of fun when you had six lines of pizza coming out of the oven), stocking the buffet and cooking. I spent my time studying the managers and even got to call the shots on what pizzas needed to come to the buffet when I was stocking. I enjoyed being put in different positions based on where they needed me to be at any time. I wanted to be the best in every area and even though I wasn’t, I at least strived to be. Then it came time to graduate high school. A few months before graduation the owner of the store, who I had gotten to know over time by helping him in any way that I could, sat me down for a chat. He mentioned that the other managers agreed and would like to know if I would like to go into training that summer to become a manager?
This was it; I was going to help run the place. I was only eighteen and I was doing it. I obviously agreed and that summer was really hard on me. I had to grow up quick and learn a ton. I had just left school and now was being asked to study all summer long. I will say this, Cici’s had an excellent program and training for developing managers. You really have to know your stuff and you have to be able to run shifts accordingly while dealing with any surprise that could come from a guest. It was impressive.
After passing a 320 question test with a score of 95 or higher three times, I got my week of running shifts. One of the shifts would be a surprise visit from the district manager and he would evaluate it. If I passed and he thought I could become a manager then I would get my certificate of management and could be left alone at the store without any other managers present. That was actually kind of nerve-racking (although pretty cool) to an eighteen year old. Then, the afternoon he decided to show up I happened to be outside of the store due to a guest that could not get her car started. I had jumper cables and decided to help her really quick and after getting the guest back on the road, I saw that he was walking into the store. My heart sank. I was going to get docked because no one was inside to manage. Turns out that going out of my way to help a guest was actually to my advantage. I got the position.
Not only was I now making a decent salary for someone my age, but I was starting to get more and more responsibility as I could take it. I noticed that the owner respected and trusted me. He invested a lot of time training me in different situations and in improving my management skills. I owe a lot to him for how I managed and grew my capacity in that season.
Eventually I started meeting with the district manager once a month. He started doing monthly surprise visits and, from my understanding, was interested in my future with CiCi’s. At the time there weren’t many people that were going into management at Cici’s at the age of eighteen so my future was bright. Then after I had been a manager for almost a year, the General Manager left the company for another job opportunity. I had another sit down with the owner. He asked me one question: Would you like me to hire another General Manager for this place or would you like to hire another assistant manager? I knew what this meant. He was offering me the job as General Manager. At the time I was nineteen – the youngest GM in Cici’s corporation. I took the challenge.
I was then working an average of sixty hours a week managing around thirty-five employees and two assistant managers. The pay and bonuses I received were unheard of, where I am from, for a nineteen year old. I enjoyed that everything went through me for the store and that my name was on the front window. I enjoyed the money coming in to spend on whatever I wanted. I enjoyed making every call and knowing only the owner could trump me, and he wasn’t around every day since he didn’t need to be. He had a decent team to run the place. I enjoyed having the control. I may have enjoyed it too much.
During my time as a General Manager I got job offers from different places offering more money. I got sent to all the corporate meetings for CiCi’s that included General Managers and Owners. I found out that I could even own my own store at the age of twenty-one. This was now the new goal. I could open up my own franchise with the CiCI’s name backing me on a one million dollar loan. WOW. I remember having meetings about this and it blowing my mind at the possibility of me doing that in the near future.
Well, none of that happened because I finally started listening to God a little bit more. I felt him tugging my heart in a different direction right after I turned 20. That is a whole other story, but what I wanted to focus on is this: I learned that I was a pretty good manager. I hit the bonus goals and numbers. I had perks you wouldn’t believe. (One being free rentals at Blockbuster as long as I gave a certain individual a free buffet when he came in.) I learned that I could make a lot of money at a young age. I learned that I could climb the corporate ladder and be successful in the business world’s eyes. I learned I could keep up with the details and make decisions that would benefit our store on a daily basis. It was a fun and great time in my life, but one thing I learned after I left was that I wasn’t a leader.
Not only was I not a good leader… I wasn’t a leader period. I had no followers. I was influencing no one. I only had people doing what I said because I paid them to. No one below me at CiCi’s really cared about me as a person. They only cared about making sure I knew they were doing their job correctly so they could keep their job because I was pretty ruthless sometimes. One thing I would say to employees was that I had a stack of applications that all wanted their job. If they couldn’t keep up or even want to then I could get someone else to do their job. It was the truth but it wasn’t taking care of people.
I really learned what leadership meant when I got my next job working for a church and had to find volunteers to help me in the area I was put over. WOW was that tough. I had to find people who weren’t going to get paid to want to follow me for this project. If they decided to follow me then I needed to make them feel a part of the team and help them grow as individuals so we could keep it going and also grow into a stronger team. What was I thinking? Send me back to the money and the control. But if there was anything I learned at all during that time, it was that I would much rather have a lot of people that enjoy being around me who I also enjoy being around while at work than all the money or control in the world.
Imagine what it would have been like if I went into CiCi’s as a good leader on top of being a good manager?
I am still learning how to become a better leader. I am learning every day to push aside my desires and selfishness to help someone else achieve their goals. I know I am not perfect but I do hope that I can balance out one day and have a great since of management and leadership that compliment each other in a way that really flourishes within an organization.
Right now I have the privilege of leading a media department and nothing excites me more than knowing that I might be a part of them having a better future as they become stronger and better leaders in our society.
Management is not leadership and leadership is not management. Both are needed, but if management outweighs good leadership then you will never really get anything done that means anything.
I wrote this out for my own recollection and learning. I wanted to remember why I am doing what I am doing today. I hope that in some way it also encourages you to not only work hard to see where life can take you but also learn what it is to become a great leader!