What a pleasure it is not having to rush to the gate to catch a flight. I actually had time to kill at an airport. And as luck would have it I had to be dressed for a meeting as soon as I landed at my destination. This is a rarity. It did mean I couldn’t wear my usual travel uniform of sneakers and blue jeans.

My wife dropped me off at the airport and as we were saying goodbye casually added, “Why don’t you get your shoes shined before you fly?”

Okay, they weren’t caked with mud or really super dirty but they weren’t shined up like they should have been. I do have a shoe shine kit and I tend to be pretty good about it but I was slacking. I’ve got no other defense.

Anyway, with time on my hands, shoes on my feet needing some gussying up I knew exactly where to head. There is a shoe shine station right next to my usual stop at the airport….Starbucks. I, like the planes I fly, should never fly without fueling up first!

I’ll admit it. The whole shoe shine thing is kind of a showoff thing to me. I mean they put you way up on a big chair and you look down as people are rushing through the airport. It’s a bit ostentatious to be seated on this lofty perch. That’s why I normally stare down at my shoes and avoid eye contact with those passing by.

Finally, it was my turn and up into the chair I went. Instantly the person shining my shoes (a 20-something and a bundle of energy) engaged me in conversation and he went about his work. He was sporting a smile that was ear to ear as his hands were a steady blur of activity.

At first, he was asking me questions about where I was heading and what I do for work. Then when I was finished, I asked him, “How long have you been working here?”

He replied, “I’ve been working here for two years. That’s when I finished my time at a boarding school. I was lucky that my dad did the very difficult thing and put me into this tough school so I’d find some structure and discipline in my life. I was totally out of control and heading down a dangerous road. I know it was really hard on him to send me, his only son, away like that and I thank him every day for doing it.”

He continued, “You see I come from an alcoholic family and my life was going down the bottle if I didn’t stop what I was doing. The school became like the family I never had. They gave me tough love and set me up with this great career. I can work as long and as hard as I want and I’m free to be me when I work. What could be better?”

I had no answer other than to say, “I’m so very pleased for you. You are indeed a master of your own destiny and you have chosen a new path for yourself and found the courage to walk that path rather than falling victim to your early trials and tribulations.”

He never stopped polishing and buffing my shoes for 15 minutes. It took that long because I wear size 13 shoes so there’s a lot of area to cover! All of this…while he was enthusiastically sharing his story about his life and career path.

I share this story with you because it reminds me of the many people who came to join my family business in New York during my working career. Not all of us were “choir boys” and plenty of folks had struggled early in their life before coming to work with us. What it made me realize early on in my business career is that life can indeed present 2nd and even 3rd acts if we so deem it to be possible. Many of the young hires I made over those years shared that what they loved most was that we provided them structure, a career and a future that was much brighter than their current course had them headed to and that we cared about them as people.

What I also realized is that most of us want to belong to something. Maybe it’s because it can be the family we never had when we were growing up. Or, maybe we want to find a business family like the family we grew up in a positive way. Whatever the case, make no mistake about it….business is like family. The owners can be like parents and the managers can be like big brothers and sisters even if we’re not related by blood.

So, what kind of family structure is your business creating? How much do you go out of your way to recognize and reward good behavior? How much of a career path are you creating for those who have chosen to join your team?

Choose to provide structure, discipline and true affection for those who work with you not just for you and watch your business family flourish!




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