Sometimes in life all you need is a leg-up…
This is dedicated to my friend who had the courage to put his reputation on the line for another.
The first time that I met Ted, I was walking apartment units on one of our projects under construction. As I walked I could hear the rhythm of an active broom on the dusty concrete floor. Make no mistake, this was the sound of someone really working a broom. As I entered the room where I heard to broom music, there was Ted. A thin man with boney shoulders and wild brown hair. The kind of hair you get when you wake up in the morning and forget to put it to the comb. Ted immediately stopped sweeping and greeted me. “It’s looking good isn’t it?” Ted’s smile was large, exposing some missing teeth and some serious dental problems. I immediately agreed and told him that it was really coming together. I remember thinking, “What a positive comment coming from a laborer!” Ted continued, “Jim just went that way, do you want me to show you where he is?” I responded, “No, I’ll catch up to him later, I just need to look around a bit.” I remember thinking, “Who would offer to drop everything to help me out?” He doesn’t even know who I am. See, I was the big boss. But he knew who I was. He sensed it.
Ted was a day laborer. Some in our business call these folks “rent-a-drunk” because many of the workers have serious substance abuse problems. The day laborer gets paid in cash every day after each day is done. Often they will use the money to get high and then do it all over again the next day. A crazy, sad and destructive lifestyle.
The invisible people
Ted was part of the invisible people. People that are there, yet they are unnoticeable or sometimes even hard to look at. They can blend in as you go through life or you may even look away. You walk by them every day. People who need to be noticed in order to be able to move forward. To make a real change in their lives. They are in front of us everyday. All we need to do is stop, look and decide to reach out.
About a month after I met Ted, the project manager for the project came to me and asked if we could hire Ted. Make him a full fledged employee. I was very skeptical. I could see a train wreck on the horizon. I asked, “What happens when Ted comes to work drunk?” I was stereotyping. The project manager told me that Ted didn’t drink. He told me what he knew about him. He told me about his work ethic and his limited family connections. He told me that he was already functioning in the role, even though he wasn’t an actual employee. And most importantly- He told me that he believed in him. And, he added that it would provide Ted with higher pay and save us money. A win/win situation. I was still not completely sold, but I gave him the green light to make him an offer of employment. Shortly after our conversation, Ted accepted and he started with us as an assistant superintendent.
Ted excelled on this project and others. He quickly moved up in responsibilities and stature. He was promoted to framing superintendent and then punch superintendent handling the entire completion process. Ted was the very best we had at using our PDA-based punch list system. He was well liked and our project superintendents would actually request Ted by name to staff their projects.
So what made Ted successful?
He was a great listener. When you explained something he was totally engaged.
He was always eager to learn. He soaked up everything that he came in contact with.
He had great people skills. Everyone liked him. He had a way of getting folks on his side.
But most of all, Ted was positive. I don’t know that I remember a time that he was not upbeat and positive. No matter how hard the project or how bad things were, Ted stayed positive…always.
In the midst of the Great Recession, we lost Ted during a layoff. The last I heard, Ted was working on some projects up the East Coast. I can assure you that he is successful wherever he is. And he has plenty of friends surrounding him.
I learned a great lesson from Ted. Don’t draw conclusions based on circumstances. Ted was in a tough spot in his life, but he would not allow himself to get down. He stayed positive. He stayed friendly. He stayed outgoing. And it paid off for him in a big way.
I think this is the difference. Keep your head up. Stay engaged. Serve others. And the rest will come. I now believe there is hope for everyone. Ted refused to be invisible. And we took a chance. And the result was beautiful.
Have you ever reached out to the invisible people? Do you believe in the power of positive thinking? Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me what you think!
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