The Ambition and the Ability

Chaos in Print

My mind has been going back to this episode of G.I. Joe. In it, G.I. Joe’s commander, Hawk, was off at a military conference, so Cobra took the opportunity to destroy G.I. Joe. They hacked into G.I. Joe’s computers and promoted three of the most unfit Joes for leadership into command: Dial Tone, Lifeline, and Shipwreck. Since they were unfit for command, chaos and disorder reigned in G.I. Joe, and Cobra set out conquering the world. Fortunately, Hawk came back from the conference, took control, and took out Cobra in a huge counter-offensive. When the battle was won, Hawk pulled aside Dial Tone, Lifeline and Shipwreck and gently explained why they were unfit for command. He said that all leaders need two qualities: the ambition and the ability. To Dial Tone, he pointed out that while he has the ambition, he is lacking in the ability. Lifeline, Hawk pointed out, had the ability, but not the ambition. And to Shipwreck, he said, “And some people have neither.”

This episode is haunting me because, for the first time in my life, I find myself in a leadership role. Previous attempts to attain such a role have failed in the past. There was my bid to run the radio station in university, only to be beat out. Again, there was also my election campaign in university for the position of VP External. Again, I lost. Were the Fates, like Hawk, trying to tell me something? I’m starting to ask if I do have the ambition, but not the ability.

As the front end supervisor, there are often times when it is just I and I have to get certain staff members to focus on their tasks. There’s this one teenager. She wanted to be a front end supervisor, but she couldn’t because she was under 18. But, seeing how she performs some nights, I’m starting to think that it was just a convenient excuse. She has this nasty tendency to wander away from her till, and when lines start forming at other ones, she doesn’t return to her’s. It’s as though she has this aversion to hard work. So, I’ve told her a few times that she shouldn’t wander away; that she should keep on eye on her register. Now she’s getting mad at me. She thinks I’m singling her out and picking on her. Well, I wouldn’t have to do that if she stuck to her job like the others. This is where my looks work against me. Since there is this misconception that I’m just a teenager, the teenagers tend to think that I should be one of them. So when I get upset at them for being immature, they think I’m being hypocritical.

And then we run into situations like the other night. This particular teenager and another similar teenaged cashier were chasing each other around and embarrassing the store in front of the customers. Since I was the one closing the store that night, I was in the office getting a jump on all the close-down procedures. (See, Westfair Foods believes that evenings should be slow enough that you can get the majority of work done before the actual closing time. Then, when you close, it’s just an hour to do the paperwork and you’re out of there. I find that belief to be in error.) The assistant store manager comes in. (That’s another problem with Westfair Foods, too much management.) She told me of this incident and asked if I knew where the reprimand forms were kept. She then told me that, in times like this, I shouldn’t be afraid to lay the law down. Firstly, I like to think that I would have had I known of the incident. Secondly, I find that’s the most difficult part of the job: disciplinarian. It takes a special skill to tell people to shape up or ship out, and, being one who is overcome with feelings of guilt for doing so much as raising his voice, I find I don’t have that skill.

But surely, I must have other skills that qualify me for a leadership role. Let’s look at one of my fellow supervisors. She is highly adept at the paperwork. Just a few days ago, when I was the supervisor on duty, it got really, really busy, and I was stuck behind my till. This other supervisor, whose till was broke down, had nothing to do. So, she took it upon herself to make the bank run, do up some paperwork in the office, help out in the photo lab, and just do a whole bunch of supervisor duties. Me? I was stuck behind my till, helping to keep the lines flowing, doing cashier duties. It reached a point where the crew started asking her if it were their break times and such instead of coming to me. On busy days, such as this one, the help is appreciated. On others, though, it gets frustrating. She has taken to making the coffee break schedules weeks in advance. It’s more painful having to revise one made a week before than it is to come up with one in the morning. On that morning, you know who’s called in sick, which tills are broken down, and how best to manage it. When the schedule was made the previous week, you spend more time than you have to juggling.

We had a bit of a debate the day before this busy one. She was the cashier on the “12 items or less” lane, and my shift as supervisor was done for the day. She had closed down her lane to go chat with the clerk in the photo lab. On my way out, we had this discussion:

Me>> You know, you really should re-open your till.
Her>> Why? It’s not busy.
Me>> No, it’s not. But I feel the customer’s frustration when they only have three things and they have to go stand behind a shopping cart that’s slowly being emptied.
Her>> (under her breath grumbling)

Needless to say, she didn’t re-open her till. This is one of the more popular views of the leadership role today. The one in the back room doing the paperwork is the one in charge. The leaders are the ones who don’t get their hands dirty.

I look at my comrade in arms, here, and then I start to compare myself to her. I, too, find work to keep myself buys. I tend to find it outside of the office, though. I tend to find it in my own department. If they don’t need another cashier, I pack. If they don’t need another packer, I clean. It’s not that I have an aversion to the office, it’s just that I know where I’m needed in the moment. The paperwork in the office isn’t really my duty; that’s why the boss works 9 hour shifts and I only work 5 hour shifts.

I can’t lay down the law on uncooperative employees. I can’t get as much paperwork done as my fellow supervisors. So, do I truly lack the ability for a leadership role? There’s no question that I have the ambition, because I stepped forward to take the job when no one else would. But I can’t crack the whip. I can’t sit in the office and focus on the paperwork. Is there more to a leadership role than those two abilities? Something tells me there is.

I was victim to an incident not to long ago. Out of nowhere, it got the busiest it had been in days. As is the case in busy situations, all the management had taken off for coffee, leaving just me. Then, it happened: a scenario where I was needed in two places at once. The customer at my till noticed that something was going in at the wrong price. As I was running off to check the correct price, the packer came up to me. The cashier two tills down needed the supervisor. Since the supervisor was off at coffee, that meant me. I told the packer, “I’ll be right there. Just let me finish with my customer.” I ran off, got the correct price, then ran back to my till. The packer was still standing there. “MARK!” the packer said. “Didn’t you hear me? You’re needed at that till over there.” At this point, the cashier who needed my assistance got on the P.A. and said, “Mark, come to my till now!” Since she was just 30 feet away, I yelled out, “I’M COMING!” I finished with my customer, sprinted down to the other till, saw to her and her customer, and ran back to my till. (That’s another thing I’m noticing about Extra Foods, I’m the only who runs when it’s busy.) Things moved on. A few days went by. Then, I get called into the office. It turned out that the cashier’s customer didn’t like how I yelled out “I’m coming.” When he got home, he called the store to complain about how rude I was. So management was all quick to act. They started filling out the reprimand form. But, they hit a snag. Since all the management was off at coffee when this happened, they weren’t witness to this incident, and they couldn’t sign the form. The only witness they could come up with was that cashier who kept calling for me. When they brought her into the office to sign the reprimand, she refused to. She said that she understood the situation that I was in, and, in her opinion, I wasn’t rude. Since management’s only witness was a bust, I couldn’t be reprimanded. For a member of my crew to defend me like that must mean I’m doing something right.

The ambition and the ability. The desire to do something, and the right skills to do it. At the end of the day, that’s all you really need to do any job. But it’s something that takes on an added weight when you are in a leadership role. There’s an unknown quality that people need to posses to be able to give orders and have people follow them. Anyone can give orders. Getting people to follow them is the tricky part. It’s more than the whip. It’s more than the paperwork. Hawk knew that. Hawk had that. And, Hawk had the rare gift to recognize it in others. But, Hawk is a cartoon character; an idealization. He’s not going to step in anytime soon and tell me what I’m lacking. Like with all things in life, I can just keep doing what I’m doing and pray I do it right. I’m not the best, but I do OK. Yo Joe!

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