Lessons in Management from a Cobbler’s Son

cobblers sonThis is the first in a series of blogs I plan to write about leadership qualities I learned from my dad, Joseph Costa–and that he learned from his father. My father’s father, Santi was a cobbler who passed away when my dad was in high school, leaving my father to care for his mother, two brothers and four sisters. Joseph left high school and went to work, becoming a skilled pattern-maker of women’s dresses. Eventually he opened his own dress manufacturing company. Later he went on to head production at a well-known dress company and he also taught pattern-making at The Fashion Institute in New York City. Dad always worked on Saturday during the1940s and 1950s. Sometimes my mother would dress my brother and me in our good clothes to ride the train into the New York garment district to visit him at work–always an exciting day for us. Later I worked summers at dad’s business. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the experience of watching my dad work taught me more about leadership than any book ever has.

Lesson 1 – Never let an org. chart go to your head!
org-chartFireman, Ballerina, Superhero, Doctor–most children know what they want to be when they grow up and I was no different. I wanted to be an elevator operator. The elevator operator working in my dad’s building had a job that couldn’t be beat! He always landed exactly at the level of the floor, he had a special maroon and gold-braid suit and he got to pull the magic lever. Most important, I saw that my father thought he was an important man. Whenever we got on the elevator, my dad would make a point of asking him about his son who was in college or his wife who had recently been ill. The truth is my father really did think the elevator operator was an important man. What I came to realize is that my father thought everyone who worked with him–or for him–was important.

He chose to have real, meaningful relationships with everyone in his life. Most important, the depth of his relationship with scores of people was translated by each recipient of his attention as, “Wow! I am someone who deserves respect because I am treated that way. It’s great to work here.” You could see it on the elevator operator’s face as it registered a calmly satisfied pleasure whenever he saw my dad.

The truth about most any business is that for most there is always someone “above” you on the organizational chart and often someone “below”. If you think of the org. chart as a pyramid, you see just how interconnected everyone is. It’s a question of who will be there to support you if your station on the pyramid should crumble. If you are treating your co-workers with friendly, sincere respect, the pyramid is less likely to crumble. We have all worked with the Eddie Haskels of the corporate world, people who only treat “important people” with respect and recognition. Usually, those calculating types are transparent and sadly that they miss the opportunity to build relationships with the people they work with. I’m not saying to invite everyone over for barbecue or help the guy in the next cubicle move his sofa come Saturday morning, but I am saying that no company has “unimportant people,” especially not in this economy.

The-EconosphereEveryone has a job to do: each job builds upon and relates to all the others to accomplish both the mission and the holistic goal of the company – whether that is to bring a product to market, to provide a service, or to cure a sick patient. The sad truth is that no matter what you do there may still be someone who acts like an ass—stubborn, prideful, self-involved–but at least it won’t be you. The lesson of treating everyone I work with as important is one I learned early on from my father—riding the elevator or interacting with employees no matter what their station within his company. I remember each day that everyone I work with wants to add value. If we set aside the image of the pyramid and think of a holographic sphere, 360 degrees in every direction, there is no one above me and no one below me within that sphere–everyone is contributing to that econosphere, trying to do the best they can. Consider the street sweeper Jimmy Buffett quotes in his song “It’s my Job”:

It’s my job to be cleaning up this mess
and that’s enough reason to go for me.
It’s my job to be better than the rest
and that makes the day for me.

Remember, we all have a job to do, but the title of that job is simply an identifier—it’s not what makes the person important. What makes the person important is the fact that he or she senses that they are doing the very best they can, and that belief is aided, supported, and even increased by the respect that is rained upon them–whether they are the CEO, or the man who operates the elevator.

About Santo Costa

Sandy Costa is an internationally respected speaker and business leader. Check out Sandy’s website at www.SantoCosta.com
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13 Responses to Lessons in Management from a Cobbler’s Son

  1. Sandy: I feel it as an honor to have heard a part of your childhood story before. The way you explain the importance of what each of us do, is the unique quality which God gave you to inspire each of us “To be the best we can be, everyday”.

  2. Tim Wright says:

    I enjoyed reading this. I have similar experiences growing up inside my Dad’s company ….observing his behaviours, particularly the respect he demonstrated towards others. He always said “everyone of us wants to be significant in some way”

    Thank you

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Kenneth Cutshaw says:

    Sandy, I really enjoyed this blog. I received your email. I am in Tbilisi (Country of Georgia) this week.. back to RDU on Saturday and then back to Denver on Monday.. return to RDU for the weekend and then to San Jose, Costa Rica for a week with our Master Franchisees. I hope to press my wife into finding a good day in May or June. I would enjoy meeting your wife and always enjoy spending time with you. Did you ever know Betsy Cook at Quintiles.. She is a sorority sister of my wife and dated my brother in law at Duke. we will connect soon. Ken

  4. Bob Reuss says:

    Well spoken. I got similar messages from my father including “no matter what their title they all put their pants on one leg at a time”!

    Is the handsome guy in the photo you or your dad?


  5. Brandy Markey says:

    Integrity and respect is what my Dad has always stressed with my sister and me. Great post!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I commended your initiative and leadership for creating this forum to highlight positive values. Your father’s story provides a great lesson in management: when people are given feedback about what they do that is valued within an organization, it empowers them to do it even better. This not only helps them, but the company’s bottom line. When someone takes pride in what they do, it shows. A level of differentiation can keep coworkers performing at there best, and create a work environment that is supportive, cordial, and successful. I look forward to the rest of your series.

  7. Fred P. Carlini says:

    It’s been a while since we have spoken but through a mutual friend of ours, I have been following your blogs and inspirational words on life and business. It is refreshing to hear words that reflect mutual respect, mutual integrity, recognition of the value of an individual regardless of the job one has within the corporation especially in this world where we are being surrounded by narcissistic individuals who are at the helm of businesses. These principles need to be reflected in our curriculum’s in our business schools. There has been too much focus on ‘what’s in it for me” – let’s start reflecting on what to gain by involving each and every member of our companies and thank God for the generation that has past on these very important insights and life lessons – they are sorely missed but can be of such value as long as we share their value systems!

    • Santo Costa says:

      Hi Fred, so good to hear from you. Thank you for your comments. There is little doubt that there are few things that are as important to an individual as believing that they are valued and respected, and that their lives have meaning. Delighted to hear from you, Sandy

  8. Hi Mr. Costa,

    I want to thank you for sharing your personal experiences and thoughts with us. I truly agree with all you have said…I think the world is a lot better off when everyone is doing well and if we all thought this way the world would certainly be an even better place. My mom has instilled the same foundation of humility and compassion in her kids that your dad instilled in you.

    Thank you sharing your story.



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