Into the Light

© 2018 by Tom Sparough

Into the Light

It is true that I am the youngest branch manager at Your Trust Savings and Loan. This was not an honor. It was a set up for failure.

Perhaps they promoted me to branch manager simply because I wasn’t paying attention. Stories of unexplained open drawers meant nothing to me.

Our savings and loan has six locations. My branch is the oldest, but smallest. I have two employees. Three, if I count the janitorial service.

After I became manager, I did notice something strange with the curtains one day. They were swaying like they were being blown by the wind. I remember being puzzled as it occurred to me that the window was permanently locked. I looked around and noticed that there was no air conditioning vent in the area.

Standing next to the curtain, watching it billow in and out, I wondered what could be doing this. There didn’t seem to be any airflow around it. I brought my hand to the curtain and held it.

The curtain stopped moving for a moment. Then I felt a tremendous tug as the whole curtain shot upward, ripping it from my hand. I took a step backwards and nearly fell down. The curtain began to once again gently flow back and forth.

About a week later, just after I had locked all the doors at closing, I came into my office and noticed that every drawer in my desk had been opened. I was alone. I had just been in my office. How could the drawers have been opened?

I walked through the office and checked behind the counter. I tugged on the back door. I saw nothing unusual, but then I spotted the two front doors, which I had just locked, were now wide open.

Although they were designed to always swing shut, the doors were staying open. I walked over to them and closed them. Pulling out my keys, I relocked them. I double-checked to make sure they were indeed locked.

I didn’t call the police. What could I say? “I locked the doors and then they were open. The drawers in my desk were pulled out.”

That night cleaning up after my dinner I had an epiphany. The stories were true. There was a ghost at my branch.

The fact that one of the previous branch managers had been locked in the vault and died, up until this point had seemed an unfortunate accident.

Then I remembered another branch manager had broken his arm and ankle on a nasty fall down the steps into the basement. He was not merely clumsy.

I was the manager of a haunted savings and loan. My stomach churned. I hadn’t learned about this in business school.

The bank was quiet for a week. Just as my hopes were up one afternoon, I heard a noise coming from my office. It was a metallic sound, like a rolling metal dish. I went into the office and found my coat rack rolling on the middle of the floor.

“That’s my ghost,” I said and went back to my business.

Another quiet week went by and then at closing time we were having trouble reconciling accounts. One stack of bills was $20 short. My teller rechecked one of the other stacks that had already been double checked, but found it to be $20 over. So we put the $20 with the short stack and double-checked that it was right, but it was now $20 over.

We rechecked the other stack and it was $20 under. So once again we made the adjustment. My teller left. Just after she was gone, I saw, and this is true, I really saw it happen, one of the $20 bills was sliding across the counter, going from one stack to the other.

Then those two stacks, each with $500 in them began to spread out on the counter. The bills began to rise up into the air and then fall down onto the counter. I lurched at the falling bills and stuffed them into a bag. I put the bag into one of the locked drawers, and got out of that place.

I was shivering. After I started up my car, I had trouble putting it into gear. My nerves were shot. I was crying. I was worried that this ghost was in the car with me.

I managed to get home. That Friday night I drifted in and out of a restless, fearful sleep. On Saturday I gradually relaxed. I had been doing some reading on ghosts, and I increased my research and a plan formed in my mind. I was going to need to go into the office basement.

Sunday afternoon I opened up the back door and went into my branch. The building was 115 years old. How many stories were there about the very threshold I was walking through?

I opened the door to the basement where we kept our archives. I walked down the wooden stairs confident I was doing the right thing.

Yet, I was overcome with the eerie feeling that I was now in the very place that my ghost lurked. I pulled out the big book of newspaper clippings and began to look through them. This was a book that contained every article that mentioned our branch in the first 100 years of its existence.

I was searching for information about someone who had died at our bank, someone who was now haunting our branch.

After two hours of searching, I shivered when I read the following story:

“Robert Cole was found frozen to death yesterday morning. His body was found in the alley behind the savings and loan.

“It was an ironic death for the once prosperous farmer to die on the back steps of the bank. Years ago he had claimed to have brought in more $3,900 on the day of the infamous bank run, the day that the savings and loan managed to stay open, while the other banks in town went bankrupt.

“Cole had said that he had given his money to the manager Sven Johanson, who died from a heart attack that very night. According to Cole, his money was the reason Johanson was able to keep the bank open. Cole said that because he and Johanson were friends, and because of the turmoil that day, he never got a receipt.

“When the next branch manager refused to believe Cole’s story, Cole lost his farm in bankruptcy. Since then, he had been homeless. Cole will be buried in the paupers’ field.”

I may not be the smartest branch manager, but I did see the light here.

My mouth was dry as I finished reading this story. I felt his presence. I wanted to help him. I wanted to release and apologize to Robert Cole. I knew from my research that this was a reason why people became ghosts. They had unfinished business.

As a manager, I could take care of this.

“Mr. Cole,” I said to the empty basement, “I know you are here. You scare me. You have frightened me. But I now believe you are the one who has been wronged.“

I felt a cool sensation cross my hand, then wrap around my throat. I put my hand to my throat. I could feel nothing but the coolness.

“Mr. Cole, please accept my apology on behalf of all the past managers who have violated your trust.”

My throat. The coldness. My throat was being squeezed. I could scarcely talk. I could scarcely breathe.

“Please accept this apology, and I will take this story, and I will get a plaque, and I will put the story on the plaque. There will be a heading that says…”

I was losing consciousness. No breath.

“The heading will say,” I muttered, “The True Story of the Man who Saved our Branch.”

I fell to the floor. I couldn’t talk, but I thought, “I will do this. I will honor you. Our business is done. You may go. You must go. Leave me. Visiting hours are over.”

The light began to flicker. It rose in intensity.

I saw a figure of mist move away from me and immediately I could breathe again.

I gasped for air. “I promise not to forget you. This branch manager will honor you. I thank you.”

The misty figure was directly under the bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The mist was going upwards to the bulb. The light pulsed brighter and brighter. I could no longer look at it.

There was an explosion. BOOM. The light disappeared. I was engulfed in dark. I couldn’t see a thing, and in that blindness, I became aware of the silence of the room. There was a calm that came over me. I lay on the ground for a moment taking it all in and then made my way up the stairs and out of the basement.

I walked into the light of my branch office. That very Sunday night, I ordered the plaque to honor Mr. Cole.

 

Reflection

Implement best practices of others.

When we come across a problem that we haven’t experienced, we can try to handle it all on our own, but it is wise to find out what others have done to rectify similar situations. We do well to learn from those who have come before us.

What were the strategies this young manager used to correct his problem?

When have you addressed a problem successfully by following in another’s footsteps?

Deadbeats

© 2018 by Tom Sparough

Deadbeats

Sue Their Ass Legal Associates seemed like a great firm. I was thrilled to get a job in their physical evidence department.

My team sorted through the various documents, reports and notes that were not in electronic form. I became the seventh member of a group affectionately known as the Deadbeats.

The Deadbeats got their name because they almost never seemed busy. The thing was, they got their work done very quickly. After that, they could do anything they wanted.

On my second day there, our team received about 10 boxes of medical files. We were to read through them, tab and highlight key sections, and write a series of summaries. They gave me about 300 pages.

At the end of the day, I was on page 207 and the rest of the Deadbeats were playing poker. Somehow they had finished the rest of the 10 boxes.

“How did you do it?” I asked. “How did you get through that much material accurately and quickly?”

Jose, Susan, Jeff, Yolanda, Kiefer, and Sam looked at me at the same time. It was both comical and creepy. They started to laugh.

Kiefer said, “We have super human skills.”

Susan said, “Do you want to be one of us?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“All you have to do,” said Susan, “is a short flight, a tiny swallow, or take the big plunge.”

“What does that mean?”

They laughed again. I still had 100 pages to go, and they were playing cards. And now they were laughing at me.

Susan said, “There will be plenty of chances to join us, but for now just get your work done the old fashioned way, by the sweat of your brow!”

I finished my 300 pages and the summary statements a little bit before noon the next day. The Deadbeats were headed out to lunch.

Jose invited me to join the group. “Come on big fella, come celebrate with us?”

My lunch was in the refrigerator. “No, I am going to stay in the office this time. I already have my lunch here.”

“Party pooper, party pooper,” Yolanda sang out.

They got in the elevator at 11:55 and didn’t get back to the office until 3:20. They clearly had been drinking.

Jeff put his arm around me. “All work and no play make Gavin a very dull boy. Next time you got to come out with us, dude.” He rubbed the top of my head with his knuckles.

I had been reading a series of briefs that had been sent to our work group. We had work to do, but they said it could wait until tomorrow morning.

“We will do it in the morning, and since it will be Friday we will have a dart tournament in the afternoon,” Jeff said.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “They have just delivered 20 boxes to us.”

“Holy crap,” said Yolanda. “We better get started right away or we will have to work all weekend.”

They burst into laughter. Kiefer turned on the TV, and they began to watch “Judge Judy.”

Susan looked at me watching them. She walked over to me. “Why don’t you just pick a box and get started? Don’t worry about us. You’ll see. It will all get done in the morning.

I worked until 7 p.m. that night. It was a 12-hour day for me, and four of those hours were time and a half. The rest of my team had left at 4:30. “Shhh,” they said in unison as they left.

They were done with the 19 boxes before lunch. I was barely into my box. I imagined that they didn’t read anything. I didn’t know what they did; yet I did know that they were known as the most efficient and careful readers of the whole firm. I had asked to be part of this team. I loved to read and was great at analysis, but I was clearly missing something here.

That night I worked until 10 p.m. The Deadbeats had left at 4:45 after a raucous afternoon of dart playing and beer pong.

I heard laughter coming into our office at about 9:50 that Friday night. I looked around and it seemed to be coming from outside. I walked over to the big window, and I saw lots of motion going through the air, like birds, or drones, or something.

I stood looking out that 8th floor window with my jaw open wide enough to swallow a baseball. I knew what I was seeing, but I wouldn’t let myself admit it. The Deadbeats were flying through the air, laughing and passing by the window. They were a ghostly grey and as they flew by they had a contrail that stretched out and then recoiled into them.

As I looked out in awe and panic, Susan flew to the window and hovered in the air staring at me. Her hair was being blown every which way. She winked at me and flew off with the others.

I had no doubt I was hallucinating. I called it a night.

On Monday, as I was working through my box, Susan asked me, “So, how was your weekend?”

“It was good, very restful. I had worked late Friday night and needed some down time.”

“My weekend was crazy fun. It must seem strange to you how the rest of us ‘fly’ through our work.”

The way she said “fly” gave me a chill. She was telling me with a smile that I hadn’t been hallucinating.

“Would you like to learn to ‘fly’ through your work the way we do?” she asked.

“What would I have to do?”

“Just take a short flight. Then you will be one of us.”

“What do you mean a short flight?”

“You know,” said Susan, “like, from the 8th floor to the ground.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. “I’m good. I’m just gonna keep working here.”

“Suit yourself. But it is quick and easy, and takes away all of your burdens.”

Kiefer looked at me, raised his eyebrows and simultaneously put both thumbs up.

The next morning at 8 a.m. the Deadbeats were sitting around the circular table sipping their cappuccinos. I must admit that I have a weak spot for that wonderful mix of steamed milk and dark coffee, especially with a bit of flavoring in it.

Jose said, “Isn’t this killer stuff?” He took a heaping spoonful of what appeared to be powdered chocolate and mixed it into his drink.

The Deadbeats passed the canister and spoon around the table, each taking a towering spoonful. Yolanda sprinkled the powder onto her drink. She brought the cup, which was steaming in the office air, up to her nose. “I live for this,” she said.

I had my own caramel latté. I had joined them at the round table. Jeff handed me the canister. “Try some. Seriously, it is to die for.”

I took the spoon and the canister in my hand. I turned the metal canister around and saw the words “rat poison” written on it. Everyone stared at me.

“Why does it say rat poison?”

“You know,” said Sam, “We don’t want to have any rats in the group.” More laughing, or was it cackling?

“I think I’ll pass.”

“Come on,” continued Sam, “just one spoonful and take a tiny swallow.”

“What is it really?”

Susan smiled, “It’s really good.”

They were all looking at me, encouraging me with their hands, nodding their heads up and down.

Awkward as it was, I put the canister down on the table. I got up and said, “Oh rats, I better get back to work.” I walked out of the conference room.

Later that morning I opened the door to the janitorial closet. I had spilt my drink on my desk and wanted to clean it off with a rag. I pulled the chain to turn on the light and scanned the room for a clean rag. My gaze went up to the shelves above the work counter.

On the second row I saw a canister that looked like the one this morning. It said rat poison on it. There were some mousetraps next to it. Not seeing a rag, I turned around to leave, and there was Susan in the doorway.

She had such a big smile. “What are you up to? You bad boy!”

“Oh, nothing. I was just looking for a rag.”

“Would you like to spend some time in the closet? I would be happy to join you?”

I had some stirrings. Susan was more than attractive. She took a step closer to me. I could feel the heat from her breath.
She reached past me and took the canister off the shelf. “Let’s try a little of this, and then do a little of that.” She took her index finger, brought it to her lips and then licked tip of her finger with her tongue.

I closed my eyes for a moment. She pushed her body next to mine. I backed up to the counter. She moved with me.

Susan unscrewed the cap, dipped her finger into the canister and put it in her mouth. She pressed her lips together, “Mmm, so good.”

She dipped her finger in again and brought it to my mouth. “Go ahead, have a little swallow. We have to have this before we can get to that.” She smiled and brought her lips together with a kiss.

I looked at her finger covered in powder. It wasn’t chocolate, but it couldn’t really be rat poison. This was some crazy joke. I wanted to be with Susan. It felt like she wanted to be with me, yet it also felt like I was being played.

“Not so fast,” I said. “You know I am on a diet. And my landlord is going to kill me if I don’t pay my rent. I better get back to work.”

“Naughty, naughty landlord,” said Susan as I left the room.

It was Wednesday, again I had been working and the Deadbeats were out for an extended lunch. When they came back, they were laughing and shouting. They came into the workroom.

“Guess what we learned how to do?” said Yolanda.

“It’s dangerous,” said Sam.

“So you won’t like it.” Said Jeff.

“But we got you one anyway,” said Kiefer.

“Please try it. Have some fun,” said Susan.

Jose pulled out seven letter openers out of a wooden box. “These aren’t actual swords, but they still work.” Jose passed one of the letter openers to everybody but me.

“Let’s all do it together,” said Sam.

“You just watch,” Susan said to me. “We learned this from a street performer at lunch.”

The Deadbeats licked their letter openers, tilted back their heads, opened their mouths, and stuck the swords down their throats. They stretched out their arms in unison and wiggled their fingers for applause.

It was crazy impressive, and I applauded.

They pulled their swords out. “Now it’s your turn,” said Susan handing me one of the short swords.

I felt the sides of my letter opener. It was sharp, more like a knife than a letter opener. “I am not doing that.”
“Party pooper,” sang Yolanda.

“Come on,” said Susan. “Live a little.”

“If you don’t want to swallow it, try this,” said Kiefer. He pulled his shirt out of his pants and unbuttoned it. He thrust the letter opener into his exposed stomach. He partially opened his mouth and began to grunt as he moved the opener around in a rough circle. There was no blood. It must certainly have been a trick knife.

Kiefer pulled out the knife and pushed his hand into the section of his stomach that was cut in a circle. He pulled it out. His skin and entrails were in his hand. “Lunch was so good,” he said, “I have to have seconds!”

He took a bite of that tubular mass of flesh.

I nearly passed out. The Deadbeats were falling over in laughter.

“Give it a try,” said Susan. “Do the deep plunge!”

“Join us, dude,” said Kiefer.

“Say it. Don’t spray it,” I said to him. I put the letter opener down on the table. I walked in a haze toward the boss’ office. I knocked on his door.

“I need a new assignment. Can I work in the electronic forms division?”

My boss looked at me and smiled, “Why would you want to work with those little devils?”

 

Reflection

Be Your Own Person. It is important to get along with others at work, yet we do not need to conform to ways that make us overly uncomfortable. Team members must use common sense to decide for themselves what to do to fit into a company culture and simultaneously be their own person.

How was the narrator of this story being tempted to join the rest of the team? How did he show his strength to not conform?

In your work environment, what are ways that people are able to keep their independence and individuality?

Gift Box

© 2017 by Tom Sparough

Gift Box

Nancy had saved the gift boxes until the office holiday party. Each of the six boxes was impeccably wrapped in sparkling paper.

The staff gathered in the conference room. When everyone had a coffee, tea, or eggnog, she distributed the presents to each person. “These are from Buzz. Don’t open yours until I read the note from him.”

It was an emotional moment since Buzz, the office manager for the last 12 years, had passed away last summer. His was a quick death, diagnosed in June, dead in August. Yet he had enough time to put final plans in place, and this was one of them.

Nancy read the note out loud. “My dear friends, and I always did consider you friends before employees, I want to give you a little something of what you have given to me. When you open your box, please know that I appreciated everything you did for our team. My best wishes to each of you. Sincerely, Buzz.”

“You may now open your boxes,” Nancy added.

The boxes were all about the size of a fist. They could have held candy, or jewelry, or a small woodcarving, but they all had the same thing in them.

Steve was the first to get his open. He laughed out loud, smiled, and looked around the room as if to see his old boss laughing with him, as they had done on so many occasions.

Sherry opened the paper carefully, not tearing any part of it. She opened the small lid of the box and looked inside. Tears filled her eyes and her mind was flooded with a thousand affirmations her boss had given her.

Jose ripped the paper apart and yanked the lid off. He held the box up to eye level peering inside. He closed his eyes and mouthed the words “thank you” into the air. His mind raced with the implications of what it meant. Once again he was brainstorming with his old boss.

Tony carefully opened his gift, looked inside, and put the box back on the boardroom table. He crossed his arms across his chest and muttered loud enough for everyone to hear, “You cheapskate.”

Of course, Buzz was in the room, at least in spirit. He was full to the brim with joy as he watched the gifts being opened, even if he was shaking his head at Tony’s comment.

Jasmine opened her gift, folded up the wrapping paper, looked inside, thought for a moment and took out a handful of throat lozenges from her jacket pocket and put them in the box. She remembered how Buzz had once said to her, “Everything and everyone has a place.”

After everyone else had finished, Nancy tore off the paper and opened her box. She saw that it was empty, just like all the rest had been.

It brought a smile to her face. She remembered all the times her boss had said, “Every situation is what you make of it.” He had wrapped each of these gifts with care. His personal touch was evident. She felt his reassuring presence in the empty box, and everywhere.

Never one to linger, Buzz departed knowing that each person had chosen what to receive from the gift. As he used to say, “What you give is what you get.”

Reflection

It is often said that what you look for is what you find. When some people see nothing, others see countless possibilities.

What did each person get from his or her gift in this story?

What are you looking to give to others?

Mr. Baitenswitch

© 2017 by Tom Sparough

Mr. Baitenswitch

“Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

“My name is George Baitenswitch.”

“Well, good afternoon Mr. Baitenswitch. How may I assist you?” As Brendan said these words, he wondered if this man was a heavy smoker. How else do you get a gravelly voice like that?

“Call me George.”

“Absolutely, George, how may I help you?

“My life is over, and I am very unhappy.”

Brendan realized this was joke. Lots of callers had an odd sense of humor. He smiled. “George, my friend you called the right guy. I specialize in making people happy. I am going to do everything I can to resolve your issue. Now what seems to be the trouble?

“The problem is I’ve got no life left. I am forever in the dark.”

“Let me put it this way, George, what product are you calling in about today?”
“I am calling in to get a new life. You are my life line.”

“George, I appreciate your call and wish you all the best, but I am afraid you have called the wrong number. This is Amazing Products customer service. I can only help you with product information.”

“Your product is the reason that I am miserable, why I am stuck in the dark.”

“Mr. Baitenswitch, which product are you referring to?”

Do you want the product ID number or its name?”

“Either is fine.”

“Then I’ll give you both, you little weasel.”

Either is fine, and there is no need for name calling. I am here to help you.”

“You have already told me you can’t help me. That you care nothing about me.”

“Please, just give me the product information.”

“One, Seven, three, Alpha, Seven, Bravo, Two. The Ever Light.”

“Thank you. I’m pulling that up. I see the item is discontinued, but maybe I can still help. What seems to be the issue with your Ever Light flashlight?

“It doesn’t work?”

“Say a bit more about that. What exactly is the problem?”

“The problem is I am talking to an idiot who doesn’t care about me or my flashlight.”

“Mr. Baitenswitch I really am trying to help. Did you drop the flashlight?”
“How would I do that?”

“Perhaps you bumped into some furniture and it slipped out of your hand?”
“There is no furniture here so it couldn’t have slipped out of my hand. You have a lifetime guarantee, don’t you?”

“We do have a lifetime guarantee. And the lifetime of this flashlight is five years.”

“No, son, a lifetime is forever.”

“When did you purchase it?”

“It was given to me as a present seven years ago.”

“That is remarkable, isn’t it? Seven years of dependable life. I am sure it is disappointing, but it functioned as designed. We have a new line of flashlights if you would like to purchase a replacement.”

“No, I want this one to work, because I am stuck in here. All I have is a phone and a flashlight, and the flashlight doesn’t work, and it’s your fault, you piece of scum. Did you get that message, Brendan?”

“Loud and clear, sir. And I thank you for your call. I truly hope things improve for you.”

Brendan disconnected the line, pulled off his headset and stood up. He walked to the break room. He opened the refrigerator and stared in. The cool air felt good. He cheeks were flushed. He grabbed an apple.

“How’s it going little guy?”

Brendan looked at Rachel and took a bite of the apple. He shook his head, chewed, swallowed and said, “I just had a certifiable nut job call in.”

“He got to you?

“No, but I have to say I hate this job, at least with calls like that one.”

“My advice is as you’re listening, picture a tranquil beach. Don’t let anything someone says get to you. Anger will take you away if it gets hold of you.”

“Really Rachel? Is that what you do?”

“No, I pretend I am on a trampoline, and everything bounces off me.”

Back at his desk, Brendan put on his headset. A call came in. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

Silence.

“Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

Silence.

“Hello, are you there. I can’t seem to hear you. Can you hear me?” Brendan disconnected the call.

Another call came in. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

Silence.

“Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

Silence, no wait, soft, raspy breathing. Brendan listened carefully. He could clearly hear breathing. “Hello, are you there? This is customer service.”

No response. Brendan disconnected the call. He hit speed dial one. “Hey Bob, I have had a couple of calls in a row that I couldn’t hear anyone. I wanted to make sure that there isn’t a problem on my end. Can you give me a test call?”

A call came in. “Brendan, can you hear me?”

“Yeah, Bob. Thanks.”

“Thank you, Brendan. I appreciate you following our protocol.”

Another call came in. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

Silence.

“Hello?”

Brendan heard a wheezing breath. A voice he recognized said, “Hellll-o.”

It was the gravely voice of Mr. Baitenswitch. Brendan thought about disconnecting immediately, but stayed on the line. With 17 call reps how the hell did he get this guy twice?

“Brendan, I need something from you.”

“What’s that sir?”

“I told you to call me George. I’m your friend.”

“Yes, of course you are. George, how can I help?”

“I want you to step into my shoes for a minute.”

“Go on. How would that help?”

“Because you are a whiny little punk who has no idea what I am going through.”

“I am going to have to end this call.”

“Don’t you dare end this call. I am stuck in this coffin with nothing but a phone and a flashlight, and the flashlight doesn’t work. I need you to fix this.”

Brendan was speechless. He hit disconnect. He pounded his chest with his right hand. He spread his legs apart and stretched out his feet. He looked at the ceiling.

Another call. He hesitated to connect. He laughed to himself, and connected. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

“You know my name. Come see things from my side. Come experience eternal darkness while you have the Ever Light in your hand, the hand that has never dropped the light.”

“Sir, I don’t know how you are calling me, but I am going to have to ask you to stop this. It is not funny. I can’t help you. Have a good day.” He disconnected.
Ten seconds later a call coming in…Brendan looked at the light that signaled the call. He didn’t answer.

That low gravely voice came into his earphone anyway. “You’ve got no spine. You don’t help people. You manipulate them. You abuse them. You leave them hopeless and in the dark.”

“Get off this fricking line.” Brendan was in a rage. “I am not listening to you. You’re a pathetic sicko. I hope you end your miserable life. You deserve to be dead. I wish I could see you, see you in all your pain, you cigarette smoking idiot!” Brendan was smashing his fist against his desk.

As he was screaming he lost touch with where he was. It felt as if he was being sucked away from the call center into the phone line. He was somehow in the phone line, darkness, speed, anger, whipping along.

Rachel looked over at Brendan. He looked to be in convulsions. Then he calmed down suddenly. He opened his hand and looked at it. He took off his headphones. He was smiling. He took a long slow breath. He stood up.

Rachel stood up. She looked at him. “I guess someone is getting assertive. I think we will be hearing that call in our weekly meeting! Brendan you really lost it. I thought you were going break your desk the way you were hitting it.”

“You know,” he said in a much lower voice than usual, “call me George.”

In the sudden darkness, Brendan could not see anything. He opened and closed his eyes. There was no difference. He lifted his arms and they hit against some kind of padded roof. He was stuck in place. In one hand was something that felt like a phone. In the other was cylinder, a plastic tube with a switch. He pushed the switch. Nothing happened.

Reflection

Those of us who are front line employees who work directly with customers need special training in how to maintain our cool when things get heated. It is not easy when someone is angry to not become angry yourself. Nothing good comes from loosing your temper on a service call.

What happened in this story? Where did Brendan end up?

What helps you to keep your calm when others are heated up around you?

The Founder

©2017 by Tom Sparough

The Founder

I spoke to my son in his dreams. “You slacker! Are you going to let my company fall apart? Get off your lazy butt and get back to work.”

Two weeks after the funeral, my “beloved” son went back to work. Better late than never.

The upstart moved into the boss’ room. My room! He left my desk and chair in the office, but he removed my antique lamp, my original rotary phone, and my floor-to-ceiling filing system.

As he sat in my leather chair, I spoke to him as if he could hear me. “You have no right to move anything. Follow my orders.”

He slowly pushed his hands over his ears. He cleared his throat and mumbled, “Leave me alone.”

The veil between the living and the dead is thin. He might not understand everything I say, but I know he hears me.

For 47 years, I ran The Constant Call Telemarketing Firm. For 23 of those years, we were the largest telemarketing company in the nation. My son joined the business in year 31, just as we had started our decline in market share. He was full of new ideas to bring us back to our former glory.

Gradually he got my message, “Business is not an experiment. The rules of our firm were set years ago, and those rules have led to our success. Change the rules over my dead body.”

After my death, my spirit became the voice of reason in his head. But, he was headstrong and wouldn’t listen. Within a week of taking charge, he gathered a group of nine employees into our workroom.

I named them The Inept Nine.

“As you know, I am not my father. I believe that each of you has an important role to play in helping to decide the future of Constant Call. I want to work together to ensure the growth of our company.”

While he said these pathetic words, I moved through the room speaking to the group one by one.

“He is not your boss. Remember who built this company.” I watched my words take effect. A frown came over this one’s face.

“You have nothing to say. Why would he want your help?” That one raised an eyebrow.

“You’re a loser. Stupid, stupid, stupid.” Look at this imbecile glancing around the room nervously.

Despite my efforts, The Inept Nine soon had “a change initiative to control costs and empower employees.” One of the first steps was to reduce in-person regional meetings from once a month to every six months.

I said to my son, “Fool, you know nothing. People need clear leadership. Every month the iron fist of management must be waved before their subordinate eyes!”

For years I had been fighting the winds of change. I had a proven system, and it was stupidity to mess with it. Over time, I was sure our market share would return.

My son and his team decided, “to expand modalities. Current times required current methods.” When I heard that come out of their mouths, I threw up all over their heads. I wish they could have seen that toxic air they were breathing.

Perhaps my son got wind of it. Shortly after that he had my desk and chair moved into the basement. Then, with the complete backing of The Inept Nine, he put the building up for sale.

As the memo to the full staff read, “We are streamlining our operations, ensuring job security, and moving into a state-of-the-art facility.”

I did everything I could to stop the sale of my historic building. On the day the contract was signed, the important papers went into the old-fashioned mailbox on the edge of our parking lot.

There, as twilight descended, I put my hand and arm into that box and pulled the letter forth. A gentle rain was falling, and I dropped the letter into the gutter and watched it wash down the grated drain.

So about a week later my beloved son Matthew comes to our building late at night, 11:37 p.m. I was in the basement, sitting in my chair thinking about the cancer that had eaten my body.

“I know you are here,” he shouted. “I am tired of you trying to run my life. I don’t know how you did it, but only you could have stopped that deal.”

I heard the elevator engage. A moment later the door opened and he was in the basement. He got a dolly and managed to get my desk onto it and into the elevator. Over the next two hours he removed all of my things and wheeled them into the side parking lot.

It was all there in a pile, my lamp, my chair, my filing cabinets, even my favorite coffee mug. He got a five-gallon can of kerosene out of the trunk of his car. He slathered it all over my things.

I screamed, “Don’t you dare put kerosene on my chair. Stop it. Stop it right now. Listen to me you fool.”

He shook his head as if he heard every word and whispered, “You are dead. It is my company now!”

My son left the empty kerosene can on my desk.

Pulling out a pack of matches, he struck one against the flint. The yellow flame flared in the darkness of the parking lot. He tossed it into a puddle of kerosene. Engulfed in flames, I watched my desk, my lamp, my life burn to the ground.

When the blaze was over, my son calmly said in a loud voice, “Time to move on.”

So now I have a new job. I am a consultant and help people preserve the old ways of doing business. Just call me to mind, and I’ll be with you. I am that little voice of reason that keeps you from changing with the whims of time.

 

Reflection

As the saying goes, “Everything changes, but change itself.” The balance of a successful business requires continuous improvement. As soon as we stop and think we have the perfect balance, we see it begin to slip away.

What are five things that are wrong with the narrator’s behavior?

When have you been successful with a change initiative?

 

Cold Hearted

© 2017 by Tom Sparough

Cold Hearted

When I heard Julie say that it was no surprise what had happened to me, I decided to teach her a lesson. Nobody deserves to die from road rage.

It is true that I was a hot head, but I’ve cooled off. Death will do that to you.

The average worker is no different than me, Julie included, and I decided to become a teacher to point this important lesson out. My job is to help people to get along better so they don’t suffer my fate.

There is a learning curve, though, and I enjoy imparting my lessons. I admit that I’ve become a mischievous, hidden teacher, who gives daily lessons to the company employees.

Since Julie and the others often witnessed me get worked up over nothing in the company break room, I picked the perfect little cubicle right there as my teaching environment. I like my cool, dark space.

Most days, everyone comes to me, because they need something stored in my office. It feels good to be needed. One by one they come to my little classroom.

I may be nothing more than a ghost, but the president of our company comes to me and bows down as she uses my services. And everyone follows her lead.

People come and open my door and stand and peer into my cubicle. I hold them spellbound. They try to decide what they want, why they have come to me. Several days this summer, I think it was just for the cool air that poured out when my door was open.

Awhile back I got the idea to simply change the place where people left their supplies. I put the old things where the new ones were laid.

It was clearly a worthwhile teaching moment. All I did was exchange some things that had been on my shelves for six months with the things that were brought in that very day.

They shouted, “What’s this! Who has been messing with my stuff?” They looked right at me, but never suspected me. It is always someone else’s fault. So they think.

Another technique I developed was to keep my door open during the night. Therefore everything warmed up to the office-wide temperature. Many of the supplies were sensitive to this. The blower in my office tried to keep everything cool, but it couldn’t.

The next day the fun of teaching began. “This is terrible,” they screeched. “It’s gone bad overnight.” They sent in a repairman who couldn’t find anything wrong.

I took his assessment as a vote of approval. My job is to keep the difficulties coming. I am a trainer, of sorts, a self-appointed educator.

Little Miss Perfect, Julie, still has a lot to learn about relaxing and keeping things in perspective. She is one of the people with the biggest reactions to my concealed efforts.

A fingerprint in her supplies got her to bite her lip to the point of bleeding. She stormed off with fire in her eyes. How is that different than road rage?

Julie and the other employees thought they were getting organized by putting nametags on their supplies. I laughed as they carefully placed their supplies on my office shelves. Once they closed the door, I went straight to work. I pulled the nametags off and switched them from one package to another.

My students had no idea they were being tested. When they found their nametags were on the wrong supplies, they accused each other of foul play. Julie whined, “Stay out of my stuff, or you’ll be sorry!”

I so enjoy teaching my lessons that sometimes I am half in my cubicle and half out. I can’t leave my workspace, but I can stretch myself. This way I get to see every reaction.

Brad, who had only been with the company three weeks, saw his nametag was on the wrong package. His eyes bulged, and he threw his stuff across the room, splattering spaghetti sauce all over the wall, and he refused to clean it up. He quit right there in the break room.

It gives new meaning to “break room.”

One day I got hold of a marker, and I changed the name of Joe to Julie. It was sloppy but effective. They are on edge over the littlest of things. Joe started screaming at Julie. He was upset to the point that he threw his back out. He fell over in pain. I fell over from laughing. I love being a teacher.

Really, people need to get a grip. It is time to learn the lesson. Little things shouldn’t make you crazy.

Nobody is going to take my job. I don’t mind the mess, the spills, and the stale items that no one will claim or discard. I like the company of the unclaimed yogurt cup on my back shelf.

One of the best things I did was to open up their liquid supplies and take a drink. Then I put the caps back on crooked.

Fireworks, I tell you, fireworks in the office when people saw a bottle with a cap that had been opened. Julie got so upset it sent her straight to the bathroom! No surprise there.

Oh, and this is too good, I unwrapped the tinfoil on Julie’s package and took one big bite. Then I put it all back together perfectly. I cannot wait until she discovers her next lesson.

I am feeding all the employees important information. If my students could hear me talk, I would say to them, “Learn my lesson about what really matters, or die trying.”

I am going to keep doing what I do. I am stuck in the cold, but I don’t mind. It matches my heart.

 

Reflection

What is the narrator’s office? In case you didn’t guess it, the answer is the company refrigerator.

We all know that little things do matter, and personal space is extremely important. If someone messes with your things in the refrigerator, it can be extremely upsetting. But, how do you keep things in perspective?

What are some of ways this character messed with stuff? How did people react? What might they have done differently?

In what ways am I affected by struggles around the refrigerator, or other common work areas? What might I do differently to not loose my cool?

Stone Faced

© 2017 by Tom Sparough

Stone Faced

Joseph wasn’t a night watchman. He worked the day shift, but tonight he was filling in, which he did infrequently, and reluctantly.

In the dead of night, at 3:30 a.m. Joseph left his co-worker and walked into the dark of the art museum to do the rounds.

The sound of his footsteps echoed as he walked through the entrance lobby, past the ticket counter and information desk, towards the main stairwell.

He made his way to the upstairs gallery. The motion sensor switched on the lights, although only to half power. Everything was dim, and shadowy.

He came to the Native American Arts room. It was filled with vases, masks, and weavings. Joseph himself was filled with resentment and defiance, upset with having to cover this shift.

In the center of the room, there was a life-sized bison, and a bear. These were roped off to keep the visitors from trying to touch them. The bear was standing on its hind legs and towering 9 feet into the air.

The bison was positioned standing in grass, but looking to the side, like it had just spotted a threat. Joseph examined it for a moment and then did what no visitor was allowed to do. He stepped over the rope and stood next to the bison. It was so lifelike that it seemed alive. Joseph put his ear next to the nostril of the bull. It sounded like the bison was breathing. That startled him and he took a couple of steps backwards right into the bear.

Joseph let out a short scream as he realized he was leaning against the bear, its fur touching his neck. He lost his balance as he fell to his side, and hit the rope. One of its stands tumbled over making a loud clank as it hit the tile. Joseph stayed on the floor for a few seconds, his heart pounding. As he set the stand back in place he said to himself, “I really don’t like this. I really don’t like this at all. I hate walking through here at night.”

He continued his rounds, walking down the service steps and into the storage and work area, a room as big as football field with art that was crated, sheeted or boxed.

There were also worktables, where the art was cleaned and repaired. On one of these huge tables was a sheet cloaking an item about 6 inches tall. Joseph was curious. He knew it was against the rules, but he lifted the sheet to see a small statue of a smiling man carved out of stone.

He picked up the statue and examined it. He guessed he was holding something that was more than two thousand years old. Joseph looked at the ancient face. It stared back at him, but it had no eyes, just indentations where the eyes should have been. He couldn’t break his gaze.

He thought, “Put it down.” But he couldn’t. Then in his imagination his saw his own eyes set into the statue’s face. Joseph felt a pressure in his cheeks and forehead. His face was inching toward the statue. He could hear his blood pulsing through his head.

Breaking the gaze and pushing the statue to the table, Joseph quickly recovered it with the sheet and walked out of the room.

He was out of breath as he climbed the stairs back to the main floor. He was almost done with his walk.

Entering his favorite part of the museum, Joseph slowed his pace as he walked among the life-sized ancient Greek and Roman statues. He could feel his heart pounding. He knew there was nothing that was going to get him, yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t alone. He didn’t think that there were other people here, but he wondered about the artwork itself. Did it have life?

Could there still be a spirit in the bison, in the bear? How about in the crates, or the little statue?

He paused and looked at one of the masterpieces standing before him. It was a combination of two figures. One was of a man, powerfully built, but damaged. His head was missing, and his left hand was gone.

Joseph knew this was a valuable piece of art, carved out of marble by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s students. Even without the head, it was a stunning piece.

The woman, who was the other figure in the duet, was staring at the man, smiling, leaning and reaching for him. She was barely dressed with a cloth covering her. Her hair hung down below her shoulders, her head tilted.

Looking at her stirred something deep in Joseph. He felt a sense of melancholy. She was forever reaching for her lover, who had lost his head.

How did that happen? Was it damaged in the making so that he never had a head? Or did vandals some hundreds of years ago knock his head off?

Joseph reached out and touched the lady’s arm. It was cold and not exactly smooth. He thought that it would have been perfectly smooth, but it had a roughness to it.

He looked closely at her eyes. They were carved out stone, not nearly as convincing as the glass bison eyes. Yet, there was something about them that was moving, captivating, entrancing.

Joseph saw a dark spot under one of her eyes. He looked closely, and it appeared to be a tiny bead of water. Perhaps a leak from the ceiling had caused it. That was a comforting thought to him, for Joseph knew he was breaking the rules. He was touching the artwork, breathing on it, stepping on it. But now, he had found a reason why he should be so close to the artwork.

He examined the ceiling with his flashlight. There was no sign of a leak, no pipe, no stain, no drip. He shined the flashlight onto the statue. There was clearly water there.

Joseph climbed onto the pedestal housing the statues. The bead of water looked like a teardrop. He put his index finger into the droplet. He pulled it away and rubbed the water with his thumb and index finger. He brought the finger up to his own eyes and looked at the wetness glistening in the dim light. He opened his mouth and placed the tip of his finger on his tongue. It was salty.

He thought he would need to report this, yes, he definitely would. He had found water on a priceless statue. Joseph stepped off the pedestal and looked at the scene, the lovers trying to reach one another, the man deformed with no head or left hand.

Joseph’s gaze locked on the man’s wrist. He felt a pain in his own hand. He laughed quietly. “I feel your pain old fella. Wish I could have stopped the people who broke your hand and head right off. That wouldn’t have happened on my watch.”

He rotated his wrist. His hand was really hurting. He rubbed his wrist with his right hand. He let out a moan, which alarmed him. It was a sickly cry in the quiet of the night.

Now he felt a pressure in his neck. He brought his hands to his neck and chest. He tried to massage his neck, to relieve the tension. There was a force pulling on him.

Joseph tried to walk, but the pain stopped him. No breath. He couldn’t breathe.

Falling to the wooden floor, landing on his back, the pain in his hand felt like a clamp was severing it. He writhed in pain, and lay helpless on his back. As he stared at the ceiling a gruesome sight appeared. It was a hand, dripping with blood floating through the air, moving toward the statues.

His neck, his neck, it felt like it was being broken. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t swallow. He couldn’t breathe. But he could hear snapping and gurgling.

His gaze was elevated. He saw down the hall. He looked at the other statues so nicely laid out in a row.

His vision moved to the floor. It was as if he was in a dream. He saw a body lying on the floor. He saw blood, blood leaking from the body. The body had no head, and was missing a hand. It was wearing his clothes.

Now he could see her. She was coming into his vision. His gaze was locked upon her beautiful, stone face.

His hand was reaching for her.

The lights in the gallery went dark.

But he could see through the darkness that her expression was changing, her eyes narrowing, and her smile becoming a smirk.

It was as if she was saying, “I have you now. You’re mine, and you are not going anywhere.”

The dead of night silenced the room.

 

Reflection

Rules Are for Our Own Good

Every organization needs rules, but not every organization is good at explaining the reasons behind the rules. Some rules may seem arbitrary, and others outdated.

Healthy organizations are able to discuss and revise rules.

What rules did Joseph break in this story?

What are consequences that might happen in your organization when the rules are not followed?

What rules don’t often get followed?

Undecided

© 2016 by Tom Sparough

Undecided

Abe Demsky’s career had skyrocketed. In eight years, she had gone from a sales rep to a shift manager to a unit manager to a division manager to a regional vice president.

She had a way with words, a way with people, and a dead man sitting next to her in her car.

Her full name was Colleen Abraham Demsky. She was almost six feet tall and had curly black hair. She was named after her grandmother Colleen on her mother’s side and her grandfather Abraham on her father’s side. When she was a baby her father had started calling her Abe, and the name stuck.

Abe was on her way to a high-level meeting at her corporate office of Every Which Way Wireless, one of the largest telecom companies in existence. Her boss, the CEO of the company, Lionel Perkins, had called the meeting. Abe had flown in the night before, stayed at a hotel, and was now in the limo traveling to the meeting.

The dead man sitting next to her had showed up in her condo three days earlier, the same day she got the word about the special meeting of top execs.

When she first saw him, it was 1 a.m. and she had just closed her laptop. She was about to go brush her teeth.

There he was sitting in her grandmother’s chair in the living room. He was looking out the window. She gasped and let out a muffled scream, her hand over her mouth.

She would have been more alarmed, but he was old and seemingly harmless.

He did not turn his head as she stepped toward him. “How did you get in here?”

He didn’t move.

“Excuse me sir, I am going to need you to leave. I don’t know how you got in here, but it’s time to go.”

He tilted his head. He was listening.

Something was off, though. He wasn’t breathing.

“Sir, are you all right? How did you get in here? Are you lost?”

No answer. No eye movement. No movement of his stomach or chest.

She bent down and touched his hand. Her hand went through his and touched the arm of the chair. She reeled back and stood looking at him and then her own fingers.

She wondered, “Did that really just happen?” Abe was shaking. The man was clearly here.

In amazement, she placed her hand on his head and pushed it into him. There was a slight resistance. Her hand was inside his head. All she felt was warmth. It was like she had put her hand in a warm oven. She was in the cold, and inside him was the warmth.

She pulled her hand out and looked at it, then him.

She couldn’t think straight. She started to pick up her phone, but stopped. She was hallucinating. He couldn’t really be there. She needed to go to bed.

She washed her hands for nearly two minutes. Lying in bed, she could see him standing in the darkness. He was in her room. She turned toward the wall next to her bed. In the morning she would feel better.

She did not see him that next morning.   After work, she was in her kitchen, and he walked in. She closed her eyes.

“My name was Clarence Waterbridge.” His voice was soft and clear. “You have never seen me before, but you have talked with me. You were the helpful young lady that brought my wife and me into the cell phone era.”

He looked at her. Her eyes were wide open. She was standing at the kitchen island. She began to break apart the lettuce for her salad.

His voice quivered. “You don’t know me, but I know all about you. I have been watching you, listening to you, traveling with you.”

Abe continued fixing her dinner. She thought she was losing it. Losing it. Losing it. It wasn’t happening. This was the stressful price of too many 12 to 14 hour workdays.

“I am here to help my wife. I believe you are the one who is going to do it, the one who is not only going to make things right for my dear Ada, but for 123,537 other people, as well.”

Abe sliced the chicken. Losing it.

“Your meeting.” He nodded his head and raised his hand. “That’s when you are going to make a difference.” He walked out of the kitchen and sat back in the living room chair.

She ate dinner and got onto her computer. Nineteen emails later, she went to bed. He watched her trying to sleep. He knew that she could set things right. His sweet Ada shouldn’t have to suffer like this.

On the plane ride to Atlanta, he was there standing in the aisle, unaffected by turbulence.

In the hotel room, he sat in the recliner. He did not speak. She ignored him and focused on the business at hand, a never-ending stream of communication with her people. She had to hold a lot of hands to keep it all going, to keep the numbers climbing.

Now in the limo, Clarence turned to Abe. In his precise voice he said, “You told me when you signed us up for our wireless plan that everything would be easy. There was no risk, because we could always talk with the helpful people at your company.”

Abe glanced towards him.

“You even called me up after my first bill had come and made sure I understood the charges. I was so happy with you and your extra effort to make sure that we were satisfied that I gave you the names and phone numbers of friends and family that also might want to work with such nice people.”

He gave a short laugh. “I now know you were not being totally honest with me. I see how your company works. You are not the nice people I thought you were, but I know that you are not all bad either. It is time to make things right.”

The meeting included 12 people. It would be over long before lunch, because lunch would be at the club, and the afternoon agenda would be golf.

There was one empty chair in the boardroom. It was directly across from Abe, and the dead Mr. Waterbridge was sitting in it.

Lionel Perkins sat at the head of the table. He was 6 foot three inches, 260 pounds, Ivy League MBA. His laugh could be heard through the glass walls of the corporate meeting room.

They began on schedule. Abe brought her laser focus into the content. Like the last 15 quarters, the numbers were up. Then came the announcement.

“We have decided,” said Lionel, “that we are going to expand the period of positive engagement with undecided costumers from six months to two years.”

The CEO let that message settle in. “This will bring our termination rate down to a trickle.”

Abe knew exactly what this meant. Her mind flashed ahead to countless issues that would arise, countless creative conversations she would have with her team. She looked across the table. Clarence Waterbridge was staring her down.

She was uncomfortable with his gaze, but more so with what her boss had just said. Adrenaline poured into her system. She looked at her boss. Her courage came to her lips. “Do you think that is wise?”

Lionel smiled. He was a leader that didn’t like discussion about decisions that had already been made. “Of course, it is wise. Like everything, it has pros and cons. But are we to focus on the negatives or move forward with the positives? We already know how much this policy has helped us. Let’s leverage this situation to get the most out of it.”

“Excuse me, Lionel, but may we address the elephant in the room?”

“No, we may not. There is no elephant. Some things remain unspoken. We know what needs to be done. We don’t gather the best and the brightest to follow a set formula.”

Abe stood up and pushed back her chair. “Oh come on, Lionel. You know damn well that I am among the most loyal and hardworking, but this policy is going to pull our company down. How you can’t see that is beyond me.”

“Sit down, Abe, you’re done here.”

“No, I am not, Lionel. It is time to say what needs to be said. Everyone, including you, is thinking about it. People who choose to leave our service should be cancelled. They shouldn’t be called ‘undecided.’ And it is not ‘positive engagement’ to keep billing them for services they have chosen to opt out of.”

Lionel was silent for a moment and looked on in disbelief as Abe continued.

“Take the case of Mrs. Adeline Waterbridge. She has recently come to my attention. I looked up her details yesterday. Five months ago she called to cancel service. She got disconnected. She called back and she got stuck in the call-in navigation. We keep records of this. She called back nine times over the next three months trying to cancel.”

“That’s enough.” Lionel stood up.

“Yes, Lionel, it is enough, but please sit down and hear me out.”

“No, you are the one who is going to sit down, or you are going to walk out of here and never return.”

“Fine. Fire the VP of your hottest market. But before you do, I am going to speak my mind.”

Abe turned her focus from Lionel to the other members in the room. The chair across from her was now empty.

Lionel let out a shout of protest, but then went silent.

Abe continued, “Mrs. Waterbridge followed up her phone calls with two letters to cancel, but we kept billing her. We claimed to never have received the letters. That is not ‘positive engagement.’ And she is just one of 123,537 people who are being ‘positively engaged.’ They are on artificial respiration. That business is dead, but we keep billing them, and then we turn their unpaid bills over to collections. That is bad business, and it is going to kill us.”

Abe sat down. She looked at Lionel.

Mr. Waterbridge was now standing next to Lionel and appeared to be whispering in his ear. Lionel was in his seat grimacing.

Mr. Waterbridge was actually biting Lionel’s ear. He had his teeth locked onto that ear so that the big man couldn’t move or speak.

Lunch was about to be delayed. The numbers for next quarter were going to decline by more than 3%, a huge loss in revenue. Heads were going to roll.

The next CEO of Every Which Way Wireless was going to be a woman who had an honest vision for growth and who was willing to stand up for the little guy that silently sits in the room.

But even the little guys have teeth.

 

Reflection

It is true that not everything needs to be said. However, an environment where policies are put into place that people disagree with and never get to officially speak their opinion is toxic. It kills morale, creativity, and loyalty.

One aspect of being a strong leader is the ability to listen to dissenting voices, and be open to the wisdom in the dissension.

When a toxic environment exists, all kinds of dysfunctional behaviors arise.

How can an employee make a positive difference?

 

 

Going Down

© 2016 by Tom Sparough

Going Down

It could be said that alcohol was at least partially responsible. The drinks were flowing all night for the celebration.
Whatever the case, when the CEO of Your Shocking Friend, Inc. walked up to the podium, there was a standing ovation before he even said a word.

Bennett Kirk had transformed his company. In the last 12 years he had taken it from a two-person startup to the powerhouse of the defibrillation industry. His company was outselling all of their competitors combined.

It was profitable work and this celebration was designed to pump up his sales team.

After he had talked for a few minutes, he told them, “Do you know what a ghost is? A ghost is that little voice in your head that tries to keep you from being your best, that fills you with doubt.”

He took a sip of his beer and smiled at the team. “Well, I am here tonight to put another voice in your head. Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Bennett laughed. “That’s right, when you have challenges, when you have people that are roadblocks to your success, my voice is going to echo in your head. Don’t let the bastards get you down. You are on your way up!”

Bennett made a fist and pumped it in the air shouting, “Let’s have our best year ever!” He nodded to the band, and they immediately started playing the fast section of “Stairway to Heaven.” The room erupted with applause.

There was one person in the room, though, who seemed lifeless. He had been standing next to Bennett, occasionally whispering something in his ear.

The next day the most memorable thing from the night before was a hangover. Bennett was jetting across the country to an evening fundraiser. He was trying to clear his head and focus. He was glad there was a corporate jet so that he didn’t have to talk to anyone else. He was best when he made his decisions without interference.

The lifeless man from the night before was seated at his side. The man leaned over and said to Bennett, “You know what day it is and you act like you don’t care.”

Bennett knew that it was his daughter’s 10th birthday. He was going to miss her party. He had pressing business obligations. He couldn’t be there for every little family function.

“You haven’t seen her in six months,” said the man.

Bennett exhaled hard. I call her all the time, he thought.

“You haven’t talked to her in more than a month.”

Bennett took a drink from his seltzer water. Tonight in Seattle he had a chance to really make a difference. He had big plans for his company. Nothing was going to stop him.

New markets were his specialty. He had learned that there was no better way to open up a market than to have mandated regulation. Bennett’s current emphasis was to get a series of units in every high school sports stadium in the country.

In his strategic mind, you had to be able to tug on heartstrings. Every kid who collapsed at a sporting event was a poster child for his company. Bennett had learned of a state legislator whose daughter had died on a soccer field. Your Shocking Friend, Inc. was about to make a large donation to that representative and was going to suggest language for a state bill that could save young lives every year.

The ghostly man sitting next to Bennett was no stranger. He had been with Bennett since the beginning. He continued to whisper, “Will it ever be enough? Why are you really doing this?”

Bennett tried to focus on the business at hand.

The whisper came again, “Yes, business is good, but what about your daughter, and your wife?”

The divorce happened five years ago. Bennett could visit his daughter every weekend if he had time. But he didn’t.

One day his daughter could join the company. One day, all of this would be hers.

Bennett thought about his daughter who would be having a pool party today at the house. His jet was going to be flying over Springfield, Illinois. That was where he grew up and where his ex-wife and daughter still lived.

Bennett had big plans. He rarely thought about anything but business. His daughter’s party helped him to remember one of his fondest dreams. He had hopes of legislation that would require a defibrillator in every home that had a swimming pool. In his mind, every person who died in a pool was a marketing coin in his bank.

The shadow of a man sitting next to Bennett was considering an intervention. Whispering wasn’t enough. His name was Jacob Leymar, co-founder of Your Shocking Friend, Inc. He had been Bennett’s best man at his wedding. But ever since Jacob’s heart attack and death eight years ago, Bennett was consumed with business. He had no time for memories of his friend, no time to heed warnings, no time to grasp what really matters in life.

Jacob was a businessman. It was time to leverage this situation.

His lifeless body floated up the aisle and entered through the cockpit door without opening it. He took control of the plane. It went into a nosedive. The helpless pilot tried to correct the plunging aircraft, but there was nothing he could do.

Bennett’s drink was on the floor. “My god, what the hell is the matter?”

“I don’t know sir.”

From 33,000 feet to 20,000 feet Bennett thought about how this was going to interrupt his plans for the evening.

From 20,000 feet to 15,000 feet Bennett tried to help the pilot.

From 15,000 to 5,000 feet Bennett’s life flashed before him. The scenes of his life unfolded, who he was, where he had come from and whom he had always loved. His daughter was foremost in his mind, a dozen pictures of who she was and what she meant to him restarted his heart.

From 5,000 to 2,000 Bennett prayed for his life. He pledged that if he made it through this alive he would change. He would be there for his daughter. He would apologize to his ex-wife. He would not live his life only for business.

From 2,000 to 1,500 he swore again and again and again that he would be true to his word.

The plane righted itself and began climbing.

“I think we are going to be OK, sir, but I am heading to the nearest airport. It is Springfield, sir.”

“Springfield?” asked Bennett with a quiver.

“Yes, sir.”

Trembling, crying, Bennett imagined arriving at the house for his daughter’s party. Could he actually show up?

Would he be welcome?

He closed his eyes, tears making their way out of his closed lids.

“Don’t worry old buddy,” whispered a little voice. “It’s all going to work out.”

Reflection

Listening to the voice of wisdom is important, but certainly not easy. Most of us have conflicting ideas in our head about what is most important.

What do you notice about Bennett’s behavior in this story?
What is a story that shows your attempt at keeping your life in balance?