I’d like to share an excerpt from my first book, Voyage of a Viking, available through LIFE Leadership. If you haven’t had a chance to read the book, I’ll share that I had earned the nickname “the Viking” during my days in Corporate America because of my very harsh way of dealing with people. I was so tough of the staff they nicknamed me ”The Viking”, and trust me: it wasn’t a compliment!
In this excerpt, I share how my poor people skills would get me into hot water with my relationships at work. It is only through God’s grace, a ton of reading and learning, and the patient mentorship of Orrin Woodward, that the people around me have thankfully watched me improve over the years. If you or someone you know struggles with people skills, I hope this post can offer some valuable insight!
God bless, Tim
Some people might assume that a “Viking” would always be overly aggressive, like yelling and chewing people out. I never really did that; even today it is difficult for me to get angry and yell at people, which is something that God has blessed me with. However, I have been cursed with sarcasm, and for a long time, that was my weapon of choice.
Even today, after all these years of hard work on grinding away my bad people skills, I still have to be on guard against using sarcasm. Some people might be really crafty with their words and get away with not offending people. I am not one of them. I could never dream of getting away with saying some of the things I hear other leaders say. They make it funny; I would say the same statement and it would come out hurtful. I’ve learned it’s best to err on the side of caution today and avoid sarcasm. (If you must use it, I’d suggest that you only use it on yourself.) However, I didn’t always to avoid it. No, sometime I used to really enjoy being sarcastic and cutting people down.
I remember one time when I was called into the plant at my automotive manufacturing company, and I was not happy about being up in the middle of the night. A robot had broken down, and it was the responsibility of my team to get it up and running. Now, we had invested thousands of dollars in training these guys how to maintain the robots, so I was expecting them to be on the ball. By the time I arrived at the plant in the middle of the night, I was in a right foul mood. And it’s never good if the problem takes me 10 seconds to fix.
I got to the plant and saw that it was a safety switch that needed to be flipped. One button, and the robot was up and running. I looked at the robot programmer, really disgusted that I had to be dragged down there at 3am, and I said something gentle and forgiving like, “So, do we need to send you to another $5,000 class, or are you all set now? Do you understand how to manage this?”
I can remember the look of shock and hurt in the programmer’s face. I thought he was being melodramatic, and I didn’t even bother to notice how he felt. But if I was being bothered and awakened at 3am, I figured this justified my tearing him down to make me look good and make him look horrible. And that was my honest goal a lot of the time, I’m ashamed to say.
My goal was to tear people down so they knew I was better than them. This made me feel superior. I remember a time when a forklift driver was trying to get something off of the rack. He was struggling with it, and I was getting impatient. I kicked him off and jumped in, saying, “Get out of the way, I’ll get that thing down.” I got the stuff off of the rack and set it down on the ground.
I couldn’t leave well enough alone; I had to end this with a little verbal jab to make the forklift driver feel badly. I said in a really condescending way, “There you go buddy; that’s how you do it. If you need any other help doing your job, just let me know. After all, that’s only the second time I’ve driven a forklift.”
Not only was I being hurtful, I was embellishing the truth; I had driven the forklift many times at that point in order to know how to do the job right, but I wanted to make myself look better than I was.
I had no patience or grace with people. I totally ignored the fact that people needed time to learn their jobs, and that even the best of us have bad days where we aren’t performing at 100%. It pains me today to think of how I treated people. I gave no thought to how they were doing; how did I know if they were going through a divorce, or if they had a sick family member. I just didn’t care what the excuse was.
I wish I had been gracious and thoughtful. It is so easy to simply say, “Hey, you look like you’re having a tough day, do you need some help with that?” Or I could have said, “Is there something I can do to help?” This would have been a much better way of approaching the situation. With the forklift driver, I could have stood back and offered some suggestions, rather than shoving him aside and taking over. He would have learned and improved; but because I was his boss, I didn’t have to be kind, I could just push him around.
Mentorship with Orrin Woodward, along with my own faith, taught me to soften up my approach with people. I learned that I was commanded to love, and since I have a desire to be obedient, I forced myself to sand off some of my rough edges. (In my case, sanding wasn’t enough to get off the rough edges; I had to chisel, grind and file them away!) This was not a simple task for me. Instead of chewing people out, I had to force myself to bite my tongue.
What I’ve discovered is that if I show people grace, they will eventually learn the lesson I wanted to teach through their own leadership learning journey, and my relationship with them stays intact. Don’t get me wrong: there is a time, a place and a method for offering correction. I just didn’t have a clue as to what it was. (I’ve since learned that it’s when there is trust and love in the relationship.) But when we are loving towards others and tough on ourselves, it’s amazing how relationships can stand the test of time.