Empathy & Opportunity

Mike McGough
May 2022

He started working for the company right out of high school.  His childhood and youth were complicated by an alcoholic mother and a father he never knew.  He was never arrested, but he was close more than once.  He wanted to quit school during his junior year, but his grandmother promised him a trip to Florida if he finished and graduated.  He did, and that trip became one of a very limited number of bright spots in what was an otherwise dismal start in life. 

Shortly after graduation, he got word of a job with a local trucking company.  The interview didn’t go well and he got turned down.  He went in with a bad attitude, and it showed.  A friend of his grandmother knew the owner, called him, and asked that this young man at least be given a chance. She explained that his life had thus far had more downs than ups.  The owner agreed and he was hired. 

When he started with the trucking company, his job was to wash the trucks.  They had ten trucks at the time.  The owner made it clear that, “Clean trucks send a clear message to our clients.”  The owner took a liking to him, and for the first time in his 18 years, this young man got a real break.  His attitude was beginning to change.  He promised himself that he’d make the most of it and he did.  Over the next 20 years, he learned the business and made his way up to fleet manager.  Short of being the owner, his was the most responsible job in the company that now included 76 rigs. 

As a fleet manager, he was pretty much responsible for anything and everything concerning the fleet.  Their facilities were located on the edge of one of the newest midwestern industrial and commercial centers.  He was proud of his fleet, his company, and himself.  He did all he could to respect all three.  Among his duties was to keep the trucks well maintained.  And as he had learned when he started, regular washings were part of a well-maintained fleet.

Shortly after he became fleet manager, he received a call from the local high school principal.  Some of his trucks had been egged as a Halloween prank.  He saw it as a nuisance, there was no permanent damage, so he wasn’t going to make anything of it.  The principal found out who the culprits were, and as part of their discipline, they would wash the trucks they egged, then do twelve additional hours of truck washing.  The fleet manager agreed and was pleased that something was being done. 

Both of the boys showed up on time, did exactly as they were told, and within two weeks, they had each completed their twelve hours.  When the manager notified the principal that the boys were done, he told her that he was impressed, and that he had a proposal he’d like her to consider. He told her that both of the boys made it clear that they were going to quit school as soon as they could.  He said they admitted that they weren’t doing well, and that discipline issues were common.  Then he pitched a proposal. 

“I’d like to offer each of them a job after school and over the summer.  There’s plenty for them to do around here and a good opportunity to learn the trucking business from the ground floor.  As long as they continue on as they did during their twelve hours, I’d like to have them working here.  I think it’ll give them a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and I think they could both use that at this point in their lives.”

The principal agreed that she would contact their parents and provide the fleet manager’s contact information.

After thanking her he said, “Oh, and by the way, there are two other conditions they must meet to keep their jobs here.  There’ll be no more disciplinary issues, and they have to stay in school through graduation.”  Both of the boys accepted the offer, and within a month, the difference was noticeable, both in school and at home.  Two years later the fleet manager and his wife were invited to a party held by the boys’ families to celebrate their graduations. 

Today, those two men are still with the company.  One of them is a driver who never passes up a chance to visit regional high schools on career days to talk about the opportunities for drivers.  The other, is the assistant fleet manager, and will someday likely become the fleet manager. 

Discipline without compassion and a measure of empathy is nothing but punishment. Discipline with concern and understanding is corrective and often leads to opportunities.