For years, I have traveled around Texas and other states training on management techniques and leadership skills. With every training I find myself telling my crazy stories that I have experienced. What I have found is that the real life stories and the lessons I have learned have become everyone’s favorite part of my trainings. I have been asked for years to put these all in a book or blog, and so now I am finally doing it.
There are hundreds of situations I have been in over the years, a book would be too big to write down all of them. I have decided to blog about my favorites and the situations where I learned my biggest lessons.
To start, let me tell you my background.
In 1987, while I was still in high school, I started working in an after-school program. I worked after school and during the summers. When the after-school program closed at 6:30pm I then went and worked at a McDonalds, which is where I also spent most of my weekends. So yes, I have worked two or more jobs since I was a sophomore at Grand Prairie High School. After graduation I continued to work in the after-school program while I went to school to get education in early education.
One afternoon I went to work only to find a large note on the door from the city health department. I walked in and was greeted by our owner, who informed me that Friday was our last day to be open. It is funny, at the time I thought this place was the greatest thing since sliced bread and it was so unfair that the city was closing us down. Looking back now, I cannot believe we all did not die of a disease we could have caught there! That place was so nasty! The owners were pretty awesome though. They arranged for other centers in the area to interview us so that we could have immediate jobs after they closed. My owner told me there were three other programs in the area that was interested in talking to me. My first thought was to just work at McDonalds full time and give up on early education, but something told me way back then that early education was were I belong.
I chose to work at another program in Irving, Texas. Mainly because several of my favorites kids were moving over to this place, but also I did feel an immediate connection to the director. Over the course of time she became a second mother to me and opened the door for many opportunities. You see, it was very difficult for me to get a job in early education being a guy. I applied at every center in the area and no one would hire me. I had the door slammed in my face, I was called a freak and a pervert, and one lady threatened to call the police just because I asked for an application. I was very lucky to get the first job, and when they closed I thought I would not get another. Now, I had three schools basically fighting for me. The connection I felt with the director was amazing, and I knew that is where I needed to be. That was lesson number one, and I will mention this several times in my blogs. Always trust your gut! There are a ton of skills you can learn to be an effective leader, but nothing is greater than the gut instinct.
I started working in the after -school program and once I completed school I started teaching Pre K. (By the way, working with four years is very similar to managing staff) Suddenly, the Kindergarten teacher had to leave due to a family emergency and so I was asked to teach the Kindergarten class. Since Kindergarten was only half day, my director asked me to start working in the front office. This was my first shot in a management role. I did have a training position at McDonalds, but I the staff did not report directly to me. I loved working in the office, meeting the families, working with the staff and being a support to the school.
After four years at the school in Irving, an individual at a large national chain that I had met in school approached me. They were looking for someone to supervise their on-site after-school programs located in the elementary schools. My director in Irving recently left and I thought it might be a great time to move on myself so I took the job. Working with the elementary schools was not as glorious as I thought it would be. We were treated like redheaded stepchildren. It was not a positive situation and I did not see much of a future here. After about a year, I approached my district manager and was moved to a management position in a center based facility in east Dallas. I do consider this my first official management position and boy oh boy did I learn a ton of lessons here. Lot’s more will follow about this school, the staff I worked with, and the families. Still to this day I say it was the hardest center I ever worked in, both emotionally and physically. What I took from this center is something that I will never forget. Every child deserves quality care and education, no matter what situation life has put it in. It is not the kid’s fault. From that moment, everything I did was geared towards providing the best for the children.
I continued to apply for promotions, but was continued to be denied and openly told it was because I was a man in the industry. But, in order to keep my self-esteem up, every time I was denied a position, I would get moved to another school because “they needed me!” I later learned that this company did this to several other people and was a popular tactic. I was a manager at a center in downtown Dallas, a neighborhood center in Carrollton, Texas, and then was a “floating” manager and took care of schools while managers were on leave of absences, or while the company hired replacements. I cannot tell you how many different sites I “baby sat!”
I was then approached by the church to help open a school for the community. I accepted and moved over, even though my gut told me not to. I should have listened to my gut. This again, was not a good situation. I tried to run a quality program, but ran into constant battles with the board over standards and regulations. They felt that since they were a church, they did not have to follow the rules. I finally had enough and decided I did not want my name attached to this situation. My second child was just born and I had my family to care for. So I moved on.
I decided to leave early education and got a job processing insurance claims and working in customer service. I was quickly promoted to a leadership position here and also started training. It was a nice job, I met a ton of incredible friends, and made nice money. However, something was missing and I was not happy. After fours years I figured it out. I missed early education. This was my calling and I needed to find a way to get back.
The search to get back into early education was quick. I landed an interview with a large Texas based company who had a reputation for being the best around. I was scheduled an interview with a HR rep who quickly scheduled an interview with the district manager. Again, that immediate connection was made and I met the lady who would really send my life into an amazing direction. I was offered a director position at a large facility in Flower Mound, Texas. I spent the next five years at this school and had the time of my life. A district manager position became available and I will be honest, I had no desire to apply. I was happy in my Flower Mound world. My district manager strongly encouraged me, no, she pushed me, into applying. I honestly did not think I would stand a chance, but I got the promotion. For the next four years I had (at one point) up to 14 schools that reported to me.
Again, I was very happy in my little world, and my Director of Operations challenged me to use my training and speaking skills at state and national conferences. I started landing speaking jobs at some of the most prestigious conferences in the industry and quickly fell in love with this side of the business, but I also loved the operation side.
In 2007 the company that I loved so much was bought out and ownership changed. I lasted about 8 months and decided it was time to go. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. I would not be where I am at today if it wasn’t for the opportunities given to me at this place. I had met a woman who was doing on-going training for the company. One afternoon, after a training with all of management, she pulled me aside and told me that she could tell I was not buying in to the new ownership and the changes, and she had an opportunity that she thought I would be interested in. She introduced me to a trainer and consultant who owned a school in the area and did weekend trainings all around the state. She needed a second trainer and wanted me. I was blown away by this offer. So I took the big leap.
I left the big corporate job to start my private training and consulting company. My only steady work was on the weekends, and I was able to fill the weeks with private on-site jobs. Over the next six years I developed training modules, resource materials and DVDs. The training business took off like a rocket.
I did miss the schools, and being part of the daily operation. However, between the constant denial I received from the national chain, the mis-understanding of rules from the church, and the pain of the buy-out, I did not want to work for anyone else. So I started saving every penny I made and started looking for properties to buy. In 2011 we bought our first school in Coppell, Texas. This was an under-performing school and needed a ton of work. Within two and a half years we filled it with children and started a waiting list. In 2013, we bought another under-performing school and then opened a new school from ground up. Both are two very different situations, and we learned a lot from each.
But what about everything that happened in the middle? The interactions with the staff? The interactions with the parents? Where in the world do I begin? My stories are in no particular order. They are situations that stuck with me or taught me big lessons.
Please note that some names may be changed and stories might be slightly tweaked to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.
This is where my blogs begin…