It’s How People Behave When You’re Gone That Counts

Dad was a remodeling contractor. Small company. Two to five employees tops. I spent my youth getting out his tools, holding his hammer and sweeping up as he did projects around the house.

When I hit 12 I started working with him on weekends and summers. I had a knack for it and by 14 was occasionally running the crew when he was off bidding on another project or home sick.

Dad’s rule of critiquing others was to do it in private. Don’t embarrass the guy by calling out his mistake within earshot of his peers.

Unless, that is, the critique was pure bullshit.

No matter how good you are or how much care you take, every now and then you screw something up and the customer gets pissed. So Dad’s second rule of critiquing others was this: “If I jump your ass in front of a customer just take it, because it’s nothing but a show for his benefit.”

A screw-up would happen. The customer would get angry. Dad would turn to me with something like, “HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU …” then promise the customer, “Don’t worry. We’ll fix it” and leave.

Within minutes, the customer would come to me and apologize for getting me in trouble. I’d mumble a thank you and go about correcting Dad’s mistake on the job. Quite frequently, within 30 minutes the customer would show up with a plate of cookies or glass of lemonade. In all cases, I witnessed the customer’s guilt first hand.

Dad, of course, would return to a changed customer — one who was gracious and caring and helpful, because he or she didn’t want to get the kid in trouble again — and delight in the success of his ruse. He’d even brag about it over beers with his bar buddies after a hard day’s work.

What Dad never realized was that these customers never returned and never gave him referrals. And he never realized it cost him the respect of his son.

My father was a great guy. But he had his blind spots like anyone. Those blind spots taught me a valuable lesson about self awareness and the need to see yourself through the eyes of others, both when you’re in the room and when you’re gone. I’m sure I have more blind spots to eradicate, but throughout my life I’ve already polished away many due to the lessons of my childhood watching Dad.