Use Negative Lessons to Build a Positive Brand Foundation

While I didn’t realize it at the time, I started building my personal brand in the fourth grade when I took a job working as a handyman and house-cleaner for a lady from a wealthy neighborhood on the other side of the tracks, who I will call Norma. My employee-boss relationship with Norma was by no means an easy one. This crotchety, high-society, Miss Havisham-esque woman was extremely demanding and could become physically violent if her every whim was not fulfilled.

It seemed the harder I worked, the more she demanded. Leaving was not an option—I enjoyed and needed this job’s financial compensation. I was one of 10 siblings being raised by my widowed mother, and we were living in Holmes County, Mississippi, the fourth poorest county in the country. But after two years of slaving away for Norma, I finally found another job so I could finally leave her.

As brutal as the experience with Norma had been, it was not without its lessons. I learned that using fear isn’t an ideal way to treat employees; instead, strict authority is damaging to their morale, self-esteem, and self-confidence. I also learned that setting clear expectations, providing feedback (be it good or bad), a simple “thank you,” and respect must be the foundation of an employee-employer relationship.

In addition, working for Norma taught me to never give up on satisfying the customer. I needed to deliver a service to her, and when she told me it wasn’t right, it affected me. I began doubting myself.

But now I realize that sometimes, like with Norma, it will never be right. You have to understand people and what makes them happy. You need to realize that sometimes the problem is just a result of a customer’s personality, but still continue to try hard to satisfy them and take their feedback. Throughout all my jobs, I’ve excelled at meeting and surpassing customer service standards.

I also learned to work with the employee to create the customer experience. I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to be the low man on the totem pole. I know that people do not embrace fear, they run from it. By working with and through people, rather than trying to work around them or even worse, using harsh, dictatorial methods of “motivation,” I have produced impressive results with every staff I have ever managed.

Customer satisfaction and high employee productivity and morale are the cornerstones upon which I have built my successful brand as a manager, motivator, coach and speaker. It all started more than a quarter-century ago with Norma. Who knows, if she had been a sweet, kindly old lady, my future brand may have suffered!

Reader Poll: Have you ever had a negative work experience that proved beneficial later in your career? Post your replies (and your stories) today!