The Big Bus Company
By Martin Perry
I was once employed by The Big Bus Company as a sight-seeing guide for their open top London buses. The work was demanding. Three tours a day; two hours per tour if the traffic flowed. Some tours took up to four hours. My job was to entertain the tourists with facts and stories about London people and places.
I had my doubts about the leadership skills of the managers during the group induction. Forty of us were cramped into a small, smelly room in London's Victoria. The central heating was on full; the sun was blazing through the windows, which were clamped shut. We had our tongues hanging out gasping for a drink, when one of the two managers leading the induction, pulled two beers out from a bag. With a smirk, he opened a can for himself, handed the other to his colleague and took a long, deep satisfied glug whilst we watched on, parched.
My suspicions were confirmed once work started. Word spread amongst the guides, that the managers would pick you up on anything petty. For example, one morning after I headed off the bus after a tour, a manager was waiting for me. "Mr. Perry," he said, "you are wearing white shoelaces, not the regulation black ones. Get them changed, or I'll have to send you home, without pay." I was wearing a pair of Campers bought a few days previously for their hard wearability. They were clean and new. There was no mention of the quality of the tour that I had just completed, which I knew, from customer comments, to be of a good standard. This was one example of many small and petty comments that management used against the guides.
It would have been easy to get down about all this. After all, because of the demands of the tours, the guide would give out lots and lots of energy. The management would give you nothing back in return. No compliments, support or encouragement. The purpose of this management style was to create a culture of instability. A sense that the management are watching you at all times. An atmosphere that would cause people to work harder and harder for fear of being caught out. All it leads to is burn out.
One day I realised that I either quit the job or find a way of managing the situation to my best advantage. So, in the absence of leadership support, I decided to give myself the encouragement and support I wanted. After every tour, I would mentally congratulate myself on the good things I had done. For example, "Martin, you put everything you had into that tour. You had good rapport with the customers, told interesting stories and had good energy levels." This was something of a personal breakthrough, as the notion of saying positive things to myself, I had considered, how shall we say, egotistical! Positive comments, if they were true, surely only came from others. This was a new permission.
However, I began to realise, that something in me really enjoyed hearing this positive self-reflection. It didn't make me big headed or arrogant, but it seemed a fair reflection of the work I had done. It was the truth. It created a sense of inner security; that I was no longer reliant or needy on the bosses for encouragement. The upshot of this, was that I noticed my quiet anxiety around the bosses start to wane.
Curiously, after this, they no longer picked me up on small and petty issues. In fact, just the opposite happened. The Guides Manager came on my tour one day, just to ride for a couple of stops to the office. He stayed on the bus for the whole tour, because, as he said, he was "compelled to do so." The sense of security I had created within myself had rubbed off on them. I could no longer be picked on. Remember - in the presence of confidence, doubt cannot exist.
When you do a good job and the boss only picks up on the things you have done wrong, then it leaves you in a state of uncertainty. Part of you thinks and knows how well you have done; yet you are receiving negative messages. Thus you end up trying harder and harder to please the boss, putting yourself under more stress and pressure and not enjoying what you do.
Saying the good things to yourself, if they are true, builds confidence. Confidence and trust. Confidence and trust within yourself about yourself. So the next time you go to do that thing, you do so with greater confidence.