Management Lessons From My Bad Bosses (Part II)

(Part I.)

Mike, the Telemarketing Manager
Part-time telemarketing fundraising is a tough gig. Wearing a headset, one sits at a table with a computer monitor and keyboard. A mainframe or server somewhere dials a stream of telephone numbers, and when someone answers, the monitor displays information about the person along with the approved script for the fundraising customer. One then tries to sound as fresh and chipper to this potential mark, I mean “donor,” as one did when one started the shift ten and a half hours earlier. Success ebbs and recedes—one gets a couple of the voices on the line to agree to joining the society or supporting the law-enforcement fraternal organization, and one gets confidence that translates into further sign-ups, or one gets a string of hang-ups and angry voices whose ire deflates one’s confidence, which breeds further lack of success. After darkness falls, the calls stop, and the person with the lowest total for the day empties the trash cans. It’s low-rent Glengarry Glen Ross with less swearing and less individual opportunity.

Mike, the manager of the roomful of twenty or so twenty somethings happy to be working outside of retail, was missing his front teeth. A homemade tattoo of his prison number colored the inside of his wrist. The tattoo, he told us, was so that when he got angry in his car, if he reached for the illegal gun under his dashboard, he would see the tattoo and think twice. He boasted that the only two things he had not been to jail for were rape and murder.

Colorful nature aside, Mike was not actually a bad boss. He was a boss in a bad workplace, a workplace that suffered enough turnover that the newspaper carried a running ad for telemarketing fundraisers, and the shop had new interviews—and empty chairs—daily.

Mike, though, was good at the job. His deep, resonant telephone voice bred success as a telemarketing fundraiser. Eventually, he worked his way up from the interchangeable tables through the PCs (previous contributors list, a special phone list of people who had given to the campaign in other years and were expected to be easier marks, I mean “donors,” in successive years) to managing the stable.

Mike demonstrated that one’s past is not necessarily relevant to one’s ability to perform in a position. The right confluence of talents and drive can lead to success regardless of other less savory incidents or experiences. When looking for someone to fill a position, or whether judging someone’s abilities at one’s current job, one must focus on the present and not the past.

(Part III)

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