I had to fill out a personality survey the other day. It was for a company that might, just might want me to work for them for a few months.
One of the first questions on the test that I took was “How would you describe your work level: Manager, Employee, or Professional?”
That one took some thought. I was a manager once and I don’t ever want to be a manager again. I never had much authority but I was asked to do I’m-sure-illegal things like sneak a peak into an employee’s purse to make sure she wasn’t carrying a gun before they fired her. Nope. Definitely not a manager.
I answered “Professional” and finished the personality survey in a few minutes. The company stressed that “there are no wrong answers,” to which I say: “Ha!’
That question stayed with me, though. Did I have leadership skills? What would those skills be?
I thought back — and back — and remembered an event when I was 7 years old that might be the moment when I first exhibited leadership skills. (I know, it’s amazing, isn’t it?)
One morning, my second grade teacher, Miss LuAnne, announced that we were going to form a rhythm band. She showed us a box of instruments: there were castanets, triangles, drums, bells…so many instruments! I looked in the box and knew immediately what I wanted: the sandpaper blocks! Oh, yes! I saw those wooden blocks with sandpaper stapled to them and knew I had found my destiny. I pictured myself with the blocks, keeping the band going with my steady, reliable beat: scritch, scritch, scritch, scritchy-scritch…
Miss LuAnne had us line up so that we could pick out our instruments. I took my place in line, laser-focused on those sandpaper blocks. I was so focused that I didn’t notice all of my classmates who cut in line ahead of me.
The most obnoxious of the line-cutters was Anthony, an annoying boy who always tried to copy my test answers (but I was on to him). You probably know many people like Anthony. In fact, you very well have met Anthony. The next time you are standing in line for the roller coaster at an amusement park, if a short, obnoxious man cuts in line ahead of you, just shout, “Hey, Anthony! End of the line!” and see what happens.
With Anthony and the rest of the class ahead of me in line, the box of rhythm band instruments was empty by the time I got to it, save for one object. It was just a long, skinny stick with a wooden knob on one end.
Confused, I looked to Miss LuAnne. She smiled that smile I loved and said, “That’s the baton. Congratulations, Kate, you are the band director!”
Well, now. This was an unexpected promotion. Instinctively, I knew not to lord my elevated status over my classmates, which was a good idea because they were too busy trying out their instruments to pay any attention to me. It was then that I learned the first rule of management:
1. Be Modest
As if the day wasn’t exciting enough, Miss LuAnne told us that we would be performing at the Spring Concert and — wait for it — we would have uniforms! Could some of our mothers volunteer to sew the red capes that we would wear?
My hand shot up. “Oh, my mother loves to sew!,” I said.
Let me pause here and explain that we were baby boomers and the classrooms were crowded. The student:teacher ratio in our particular classroom was a whopping 47:1. Apparently, no one else volunteered their mother for the sewing, because two days later, a car pulled into our driveway and a woman came to our front door carrying a pattern for the capes, two bolts of red fabric, and two dozen spools of red thread.
Mom pulled out the sewing machine and set to work. After the capes were finished and ironed, she sent my father to deliver them to the school. When we were alone she said to me, “I don’t mind helping the school but from now on, would you check with me first before offering my services?”
I promised I would and learned the second rule of management:
2. Don’t volunteer someone’s services without asking them first
Our rehearsals went smoothly but I learned that being the director was difficult. For one thing, I had to keep to the 4/4 beat and know when to cue the musicians when it was their turn to play. On the 8th measure, for example, I had to point to the triangle section, then over to the castanets on the 12th measure.
It took more concentration than I imagined but we played without a single mistake. Even Anthony and my his sandpaper blocks sounded good, which brings me to the third rule:
3. Keep track of the numbers
We finished and the audience applauded enthusiastically. I bowed with the rest of the class and then reluctantly handed in my baton and the cape, which I assume was worn by subsequent second-graders until it finally fell apart.