Behind the Counter
Business in the Trenches
by Lyle R. Hill
She was gaining speed with every stride. Jaw firmly set ... eyes wide and focused straight ahead ... every muscle in her 11-year-old body straining from the effort. In the crowd, made up mostly of teammates and coaches, her father watched ... his heart beating almost as fast as hers. She was almost there now ... almost to the edge of the jump pit where she was to launch herself as high and as far as possible. But something was wrong. She was slowing down ... she dropped her head ... her eyes frantically began to scan the ground in front of her. Then suddenly, as her pace slowed almost to a walk, she jumped awkwardly and landed in the sandpit only a few feet from where she took off. Her coach shook his head from side to side as only a disappointed coach can do. A few of her teammates sighed; a few from the opposing team snickered. Her father quickly pushed through the small crowd and made his way to her. He knew that the long jump was a new event for her and that she had been particularly worried about how she would perform. That’s why he had left the office a little early to make sure he would be there to give moral support.
“What happened, honey?” the concerned father asked detecting a tear or two running down his little girl’s face.
“What do you mean, Dad?” she replied.
“Well, it looked like you were really doing great but as you approached the jump pit, you slowed down and almost looked lost out there. Did something happen?”
“No, Dad, not really. It’s just that the coach said that no matter how fast you run or how far you jump, you’ll be disqualified if you step over the foul line. So you gotta be careful when you get close to the pit to look for the line and make sure you don’t go over it. I know I need to run hard to have a good jump, but I’m afraid I am going to step over the line and be disqualified. I can’t run fast and look for the line at the same time. And I’ll really look stupid if I get
Her father was aware of the problem. In fact, in many ways he faced similar situations in his business dealings every day. Goal conflicts ... or what the MBA instructors might call goal incongruence ... two desirable goals or tasks that are being pursued simultaneously that are actually in conflict with each other. Perhaps it’s when growth and expansion are desired, but debt reduction and belt tightening are just as needed. There’s also the ever-present conflict of keeping the bankers happy with acceptable levels of earnings in the short run while trying to deal with moves that will strengthen the organization in the long term. Much-needed equipment versus much-deserved year-end bonuses ... hiring a super star when one is available at a time when you haven’t got enough work for the people you already have ... or buying that much-desired piece of equipment that will ultimately cut costs at a time when you really can’t afford it. And of course, often the simple fear of failure or of looking stupid keeps us from striving for certain risk-filled goals.
“OK,” he began as he knelt down to get to her eye level, “we’ve gotta think about what’s most important. Is it better to not be disqualified or is it better to win the jump?”
“Gee, Dad, they’re both important.”
“OK, but one is about trying to win and the other is about trying not to fail or look stupid. Do you see the difference? So in the end, which one is better?”
“I guess making a good jump, Dad. Otherwise, why am I even here?”
“Good girl. Now this time, when you run down to the pit, don’t worry about the line. Remember that it’s there and remember you have to jump before you hit the sand, but don’t look for the line or worry about it. Just go for it!”
Soon, it was time for her second jump. Remembering what her father had said, she ran as fast as she could and when her last stride before the sand came down an inch before the foul line, she threw herself into the air. Her momentum carried her farther than anyone would have thought possible. It certainly wasn’t a pretty jump ... she landed on her face ... but it was a solid performance ... one that would win her a second place ribbon. Her eyes searched for her father as she spit sand from her mouth. He ran up to her and gave her a hug.
“You were right, Dad. I forgot about looking stupid and only thought about jumping as far as I could and it worked.”
Her father smiled at her and said, “It usually does, Sweetie, it usually does.”
Lyle R. Hill works almost every Saturday “behind the counter” at Glass America, a dealer of windows, doors, glass and other products.
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