There weren’t many inspirational people in my early life, as I have written before. Most of the people who influenced me when I was growing up were negative role models; judgemental, sour, religious people who derived pleasure from catching people doing the wrong thing. I grew up in a world almost entirely devoid of praise, and full of criticism. Is it any wonder that I now try to create a world that is the total opposite of the one that I grew up in?
When I work on the railway in 1979, I didn’t expect to find inspiration there. I applied for the job because my girlfriend wanted me to have a job ‘with prospects’. Little did I know that two of the people I would work with there would become my greatest positive role models. The first was Jimmy, a Chief Steward I worked with in the mid 1980s.
I was on standby one morning at King’s Cross. Jimmy came and asked me if I wanted a day’s work, and I went and worked with him and a team on a train to Leeds and back. I was immmediately impressed by how friendly everyone was and how everyone was working together as a team. It didn’t take me long to realise that Jimmy was at the heart of this. He was an energising force, always busy himself, leading by example. Although he was the team leader, no job was beneath him. I remember thinking at the end of that shift ‘That was the most enjoyable day I have had on the railway so far’.
A few days later Jimmy asked me if I would like to go and work on his team full time. I accepted immediately, and spent a very enjoyable year or so working on Jimmy’s team. It really was a pleasure to go to work. he always had a smile on his face, was professional (quite unusual on British Rail in those days) and fair. On the one occasion that I disappointed him and he had to speak to me about a misdemeanour, it was all over in five minutes, and we went for a pint after work as we usually did. My transgression was never mentioned again.
Jimmy trusted me to do my job, respected my opinion and helped me to grow and develop by suggesting that I cover his annual leave. That put me on the path to being a Chief Steward myself by the late 1980s.
Needless to say, when I was promoted, I used all the skills I had learned from Jimmy and managed to run a successful and happy team myself. Who are your positive role models and what did you learn from them?