Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Al Capone

Al was a used-furniture salesman from New York who was born to Italian immigrants in 1899 and moved to Chicago along with his wife in 1923. His cousin's husband was having problems with a few rowdy neighborhood twentysomethings and asked Al for help after repeated attempt to control them. Al, a devout Roman Catholic, calmly went to these men and shot at least 5 of them dead. His cousin's husband didn't have problems with them anymore. This Italian philosopher said, "you can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone."

As a young and fresh new supervisor I sought to befriend all my employees and make my department the best run and most fun place to work in the company. In my OCD way I kept a notebook where I would track the name of the spouse and children of each of my employees and any home issues they were dealing with so that when I went and talked to them I could ask: "How's your wife Jean doing? I remember you said her mom passed away." or "How's little Johnny doing in school?" When there were family emergencies I would allow them to leave early or come in late. I would sit with them on breaks and, together, we would walk back to the department just a few minutes late. This all worked great for about six weeks.

After six weeks I found a surprising amount of family emergencies happening. After six weeks the fifteen minute break was now almost a half hour. After six weeks my fellow supervisors came up to me and told me I had to do something about my department. At first I argued that we were not getting behind and we were getting our work done AND getting it done in less time than other departments AND my people were enjoying their jobs more than the employees in the other departments. That excuse worked until about eight weeks.

At eight weeks began to gently nudge my employees out of the break room. I began to say: "This is the third time your mom has died this month? I don't think I can let you leave early." This didn't stop the flow of undisciplined workers running my department. So I pulled out my gun and shot a few of them.

At a department meeting where I pulled out my 45 and placed it on the table in front of them, I laid down the rules. "I am no longer your friend, I am your boss. I apologize to you that I let it get this far but it is time to crack down on the long breaks, long lunches and absences." Then I picked up the 45 and explained what would happen if they didn't follow the company rules. It took a few shots and one firing for them to know I was serious about our new relationship but after a while I could put my 45 back in my desk drawer.

Why do we do that? Why do we seek to push against the rules until we find the place where someone gets hurt? Why do we take advantage of each other until our relationship breaks? Some crazy psychobabblers will tell you that the problem is not the breaking of the rules but it is the rules themselves. If we didn't have rules then there would be no pain in breaking them. Even an uneducated used-furniture salesman/gangster knew better than that. Now obviously we can go too far, and have, but the balance between vinegar and the honey, kind words and a gun, is what we are looking for. You cannot have one without the other. Honey and kind words alone will lead to anarchy. Vinegar and a gun alone will lead to totalitarianism. BALANCE is what we need to vote for. And as Al said in another famous quote: "Vote early and vote often!"

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