Lessons in Leadership from Laser Quest #2

I absolutely loved my job at Laser Quest. At LQ, we got a chance to have fun with our customers. Even during stressful shifts where everything was running behind and pizza deliveries were late and birthday moms were demanding, we found a way to have fun with it. It was one of those jobs where I hung out with my friends all day, entertained some kids, and then got a check at the end of the week and thought “I get paid for this?!” I really cared about my job and doing it well, and eventually my passion earned me a job as an Assistant Manager.

Even though I owe Tracey a lot of credit for taking an interest in my potential, it was our next General Manager, Nancy, who promoted me. In 2002, shortly after my 18th birthday, I became an to Assistant Manager. I had been at Laser Quest for about a year and I was still in my senior year of high school – that becomes important later.

I thought that being promoted to Assistant Manager meant 3 things:

  1. More money
  2. More money!!!!!!!!!!! (This one was exciting)
  3. Only having to do things I wanted to do, and delegating things I didn’t want to do

I quickly found out it meant a lot more than that. First of all, I found out that the reason they had waited until I was 18 to promote me was that this was the youngest age at which I could be held legally responsible for anything that happened on my watch – money missing from the safe, negligence injuries, etc. Holy responsibility, Batman! That three $3/hour raise wasn’t going to cut it if I got sued, so I figured I should probably start caring about what happened on my shifts.

The delegating thing didn’t work out so well either. I was managing people on nights and weekends, and seeing them in Spanish class in my high school during the week. When I first started, my former peers held a lot of resentment for me. The resentment was not because of my position. In fact, one of the reasons I was promoted in the first place was because I had a lot of influence among the rest of the crew members. I quickly lost any influence I had when they realized I wasn’t willing to do the things I asked them to do. I made the rookie mistake of using my position to influence, rather than continuing to lead by example which had earned me their respect in the first place. I had totally lost their respect and earned resentment in its place.

I didn’t immediately recognize what the issue was. I got frustrated during my shifts when crew would disappear just when I needed a birthday room cleaned or codenames entered into the computer. Even though we were good friends outside of work, it was getting difficult to run a smooth shift. One day, I figured out why. I arrived to work early in the middle of a busy Saturday. I put on the headset we used to communicate with the crew member managing the game in the back, and overheard two crew members who didn’t know I had come to work yet, and who were also my friends outside of work, groaning about the fact that I would be the manager on duty for the night.

I. was. pissed. For the rest of that night I steamed and gave them plenty of reasons to hate working for me – I was a high school girl so it was only natural for me to react very passive aggressively! Then I realized how miserable I was. I had made my job tougher because people hated working for me. Worst of all, I had made my life tougher because I had made my friends hate working for me, and I resented them for it. It definitely hurt our friendships. It didn’t come immediately, but once I realized I should stop ignoring that feedback and realize that for once, “it’s not you, it’s me,” might have been true, I repaired our friendships and became a better leader and manager. I’m not sure if I ever fully restored the respect I started with, but once I started cleaning the bathrooms and emptying the trash cans myself, my life (and hopefully theirs) got a lot easier.

John C. Maxwell, author of The 360° Leader, says: “A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.” I would add that it’s equally important for a passionate leader who ends up in a position of power not to allow that position to overshadow their passion. It’s easy to be given a position on the basis of your passion and think “Whew, this will sure make my influence a lot easier.” In fact, it will make it a lot harder. Because you have been elevated to a title you will have to constantly prove that you earned it. Always remember to lead by example, be willing to do anything you ask others to do (and show it!), and never take the respect of others for granted.

(PS – the picture is from Halloween 2002, Laser Quest was not ordinarily full of cobwebs…)

Lessons in Leadership from Laser Quest #1

I love alliteration! As I mentioned in my “About Me” page, one of my first jobs was at Laser Quest. I started at age 16 and was a crew member there before being promoted to Assistant Manager shortly after my 18th birthday. I learned a lot from this job as it pertains to leadership, and I’m going to try to take on this story chronologically.

In my first year there, we went through General Managers like tissues at a screening of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. Because of the frequency of management changes, I didn’t get my first performance review (ever) until about 9 months into the job, on July 10, 2002. How do I know it was July 10, 2002? Because I still have it. It’s the only one I ever kept, and I don’t know why I kept it because I certainly didn’t post it proudly on the fridge. I’ll share with you the performance summary my manager, Tracey Roberts, wrote. Compliment sandwich in 3, 2, 1…

Tiffany is a solid, steady performer. She is loyal and dependable, with a good work ethic. Tiffany has mastered many areas of her position as a crew member at Richmond II. I would like to see Tiffany improve dramatically in her customer service and self-motivational skills. While she performs basic functions well, Tiffany does not usually offer enthusiastic, outgoing service. She is not a gregarious person by nature, and can sound quite harsh and authoritative when speaking with customers. However, I do believe that with attentive coaching and practice, Tiffany can improve in her communication skills. Furthermore, although Tiffany is very attentive in completing tasks directed toward her, she rarely jumps to schmooze our customers with PA Announcements, FOH Fun [Editor’s Note: LQ term for “games to keep kids occupied while they wait], and scorecard explanations. In the next several weeks, I would like Tiffany to pay particular attention to these areas as we prepare for our busier Fall season.

There were also 62 questions that were basically Pass/Fail, of which I failed 17. Overall, not a great showing for my first performance appraisal!

Now for a little more backstory. Anyone who worked with me at Laser Quest can tell you I despised people for their first few months on the job (eventually we’d be BFFs…if you lasted), and Tracey was no different. We’d gone through so many General Managers that we were used to our chaotic way of running the show and weren’t used to people pushing the rules on us. So when Tracey came in and threw the book at us in our performance reviews, it didn’t settle well. We all figured Tracey was just the next in a long line of fired managers, so for the most part we all ignored the feedback and went on about our business. After a record breaking 3 months as our GM, we figured out Tracey was staying.

Three months, coincidentally, is also the exact threshold of time during which I’m told I hated new LQ employees. It was around this time that I started to warm up to Tracey, and expressed an interest in advancing to a Birthday Party Coordinator with an eventual step into management. Now, with the hell I (as one of the ringleaders of the crew) and others put Tracey through as she proved herself worthy for three months, you could imagine why Tracey would want to tell me to get the hell out of her office and go clean the bathrooms. But, Tracey knew exactly what it meant to treat your employees like your children. She absolutely could have fired me — Virginia is an at-will employment state, after all; or she could have ignored my request to be groomed to advance in my job out of resentment for me. By doing exactly the opposite, Tracey taught me a very important lesson in leadership and coaching. I may not have recognized it at 16, but I do now and hope to do the same for someone else someday.

Unfortunately, Tracey did eventually go the way of the LQ General Manager and she was fired a few months later over a disagreement with the District Manager over office furniture (as I’m told). Even though it wasn’t Tracey who eventually promoted me, she put in a heavy part of the groundwork that made me an eventual candidate to become Assistant Manager as soon as I turned 18. And, 6 months after she was fired, she wrote me a glowing letter of recommendation that played a part in earning me a college scholarship. I even ran into her on campus at VCU one day, as she had taken the unexpected career change as an opportunity to go back to school to become a teacher. I’m sure she’s a great teacher, and her students are lucky to have a teacher who won’t give up on them, no matter how much hell they give her!

(PS: Yes, that is me circa 2002 in the banner photo. Before I knew about things like makeup and hair dye…But you can tell I’m having fun, because I’m holding a balloon!! Or many balloons. Whatever.)