He was in his twenties, had a high school diploma and no college, and was the manager of a shoe store in an aging open air mall. I was terrified of him. I worked in the strip mall and he was my manager. He was a shoe selling wizard, a company man devoted to footwear excellence. I was 17 and a senior in high school, working for $3 an hour plus commission. Every time I worked with him I was nervous.
My fear and respect of managers persisted in the years to come. After I graduated high school I worked on the loading dock at a Montgomery Ward store in Costa Mesa, California, where I found myself again intimidated, this time by the dock manager and the other workers. They were all bigger, older and stronger than me. During my brief time there I was constantly fearful that I would fall shirt and fail to meet expectations.
After I moved out of the house I worked as a box boy for a Vons supermarket in Whittier, California. The manager was a man named Tom Moore who had a perfect haircut, a full mustache and a strong personality. He had worked his way up from box boy to store manager in the company and managed several stores. He had no education beyond high school but he knew what he was doing and was good at it. I respected and feared him.
Looking back, I realize that these managers were not the type of man many would now find remarkable. They were not highly educated and did not seem to possess broad based skills. They were simply good at what they did. I did not know it at the time but I possessed more innate managerial talent and leadership potential and was probably more intelligent. They did nothing to earn my respect or to prove themselves to be my intellectual superior but I respected them all the same.
I respected them because they were in authority over me. I knew nothing about their moral character, school grade point averages, SAT scores or personal lives. They could have been terrible people outside of work. In spite of all of this, I respected them from the moment I started each job. That is how I was taught bosses were supposed to be treated.
The world has changed. Respect for position and authority has almost completely disappeared from our culture. I have seen this in my own profession. I have had my knowledge and authority questioned by job applicants and patients who knew nothing about my record of success or commitment to excellence. I have been cussed at by 10 year-olds and had my advice dismissed out of hand by millenials who believed that a semester of psychology and the ability to perform a Google search rendered them my medical equal.
The lack of respect in the current generation has not only damaged professional relationships, it has inhibited learning. While some would consider my high school educated managers to be inferior, they were not. I learned something from all of them that I could not have learned on my own. Richard, my shoe store manager, taught me how to sell, the importance of asking for help, and how to relate to others. On the loading dock I learned how to organize, pack, and move a refrigerator safely. Tom Moore taught me about business, how to manage large groups of people and the importance of improving overall company performance and not just individual work. I could write multiple pages of the lessons learned from every less educated manager for whom I worked.
Most importantly, they taught me the importance of respect and the value of submission to authority.