Fast Food, USAF, Teams, and Motivation

Just letting you know right now–the only thing space-related in this series of posts is the organization I currently work for. The series is mainly about leadership, motivation, and what worked for me, as well as why. If that’s not your gig, I get it. There will be more space topics later, I promise.

This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome!

The organization I work for was very attractive to me when I applied to work with it. It still is, even with some caveats. I knew I wanted to work with this group because: they were fun, worked with the space industry, and got the job done.

Notice my priorities–fun, then space, then mission.

These all tie together, sometimes shifting in sequence, but help me come back to work smiling (normally I don’t even think of it as work). I’ve been more motivated at work in these last four years than during the 16+ years prior to that. This situation, plus recent events I won’t get into, have me thinking quite a bit about teams and motivation. How do you motivate a team of already motivated and capable individuals? I’ll dive into those concepts in a second, but first, a little about me why I lead and motivate the way I do.

Why I “lead” the way I do

I’m a pretty easy-going guy, I think. I like having fun. I’m an introvert, but weirdly, I like working in teams. I like helping people on teams. I get along with most people I work with, with most becoming friends, and take a certain amount of pride in that. I think about things, including orders, but I tend to be very quick in execution. I appreciate logic and fairness in work, don’t expect those from others, but try hard to apply them. This can make me cynical at times. I am lazy–which helps me trust people. I always initially trust people–until someone shows me differently. Trust means I am loyal. I am internally motivated, and so despise attempts at making me fearful, which means I can be stubborn.

All the above traits are useful to me when I lead and follow, and I embrace each one fully. My motivation comes from not letting me or my team down. For the organization I work for now, my peers are amazing, and I don’t ever want to let them and the team down if possible. They aren’t superhuman, but the fact they feel comfortable enough to let the human side peer through the veneer of professionalism speaks volumes to me.

My leadership style fits me to a “t.” It’s not for everyone because it takes a lot of work and trust. And it won’t fit in every organization–particularly fear-based ones.

But let’s go back in time to previous jobs and compare where I am now with where I was.

Differences in leadership and leadership opportunities between the USAF and a fast-food franchise

It was initially the same deal when I worked for the United States Air Force. The mission of serving the country while operating space technology was cool. I thought all people in the organization were on the same team. Sometimes it could be fun. But my motivation started waning very early on, way before I was aware of it. Why was this?

There are many factors, but the biggest one is: I couldn’t trust my leaders. The Air Force has few good ones, and occasionally they rise to the top. But what the Air Force wants in a leader and what I thought a leader was supposed to be, well, we were not aligned. This is not because I was expecting perfection, but because I was expecting application of the methods I had learned about and used in prior jobs. Or at least maybe I would learn about new, useful management methods. But, no.

Before I joined the Air Force, I was a shift manager for a fast-food franchise. I wasn’t happy, but the job paid the bills. I made sure teams of unmotivated teenagers and underachievers kept the restaurants running while keeping the restaurants up to health and sanitary specifications. I learned more about leadership as a shift manager than anywhere else. Since then, most of my leadership role models have served as examples of what not to do. Let’s talk about my time as a shift manager and how motivation works among the most unmotivated of employees–the fast-food shift worker.

You see, I was good at my job in fast-food, even if I didn’t like it. Unlike my current job, it wasn’t fun at all. I was so good at my work there, however, the franchise used me to help open new locations, shifted me around to different restaurants to help run them during personnel shortfalls and more. The “real” managers wanted me to hang around after college and become one of them. I laughed, because I knew I’d go crazy if I continued to do so.

My rejection of the work wasn’t because the franchise treated me badly (it didn’t). It was because the customers were just so terrible sometimes. Fast-food doesn’t really attract happy people–it mainly attracts those in a hurry who want the minimal nutrients for minimal amounts of money. Some of these customers believe fast-food employees are defenseless emotional punching bags for their personal use. I will tell you now that lack of motivation in a job does not equate to low intelligence or defenselessness.

But what does a person do to motivate not just fast-food employees, but oneself, too? More about that in the next post.

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