Sunday, July 20, 2014
© Linda Goodman July 2014
When I was looking for accounting work a few years ago, many of my interviewers asked me what my greatest strength was.
That got me started to thinking about reviews I had received on my previous jobs. My manager at the last corporation I had worked for said that my greatest strength was my dedication to my job. She never had to worry about whether or not I would get the job done.
My manager at a government agency that I had worked for claimed that my greatest strength was that I was aggressive. I had been hired to work on a computer system that dated back to the 1960s. Only one person in the department knew how to use the system, and he was under such a tight deadline that he did not have time to teach me. He did give me a name, though, of someone in the technology department who was an expert. I found that man and actually stalked him until he finally made time to give me the information I needed to do my job. My manager loved the way I handled the situation. “You know what you need, and you’re not afraid to do whatever is necessary to get it,” he proudly declared.
I disagreed with both assessments of my strength. My greatest strength, I believed, was patience.
From 2001 – 2008, I worked in the General Accounting Department of an international corporation. On my first day in this department, I was assigned the responsibility of completing and recording the daily Cash Journal, a document that compiled the miscellaneous receipts from more than 600 branch offices around the country. I was told that my predecessor took the better part of a day to complete the task. By automating manual functions that had been dinosaurs for years, I was able to reduce the time taken to do the entry to no more than an hour a day. My manager was so pleased that he told me to teach someone else to do the Cash Journal. He had other projects in store for me.
Around that same time, two young women, Donna and Betty (not their real names), were transferred into General Accounting from a department that had been closed. Neither of these young women were accountants, but there was lots of filing to be done and they did it. Donna confided in me that she was afraid that if she did not develop some computer skills, she would eventually lose her job. I did not say anything to her, but I believed that she was right.
I told my manager that I would like to teach Donna to do the Cash Journal. He shook his head and said, “Absolutely not. She isn’t capable. Teach Betty.”
I taught Betty, who learned the job quickly, but had difficulty finding the time to get it done. Donna, on the other hand, had a problem finding enough work to fill eight hours a day.
One day I asked Donna to go to lunch with me. I told her that if she was willing to do it on her own time, I would teach her to do the Cash Journal. She was ecstatic!
After that, we spent our lunch hour each day doing the Cash Journal at her desk. Others who worked in the department told me I was wasting my time. One of them had tried to teach Donna to do a simple journal entry, but without success. She and the others declared that Donna was unteachable.
My observations were that Donna was a smart girl who had no confidence. So many people had told her that she was “slow” that she believed it. I made up my mind that I would not give up on her.
We worked together for weeks. At first, she was so scared of the computer that her hands shook as soon as they neared the keys. I reminded her that I was right beside and that there was nothing she could do that could not be fixed. I don’t think she believed me, but she made enough mistakes that I was able to prove it to her. Once that happened, the mistakes stopped. Finally, one morning I told her I was going to stay at my desk while she did the Cash Journal. She panicked. I assured her that all she had to do was dial my extension when she needed help, and I would come to her desk right away.
For the next few weeks, I got multiple calls every day. My own work began to get behind, and I came close to losing my patience a time or two, but I am awfully glad that I stayed the course. All Donna’s hard-earned confidence would have disappeared in an instant if I had lost my temper.
Eventually the frantic phone calls stopped. I checked her Cash Journals every day. I never found even one mistake. That could not be said about others who had once been assigned this journal; including me.
I showed Donna’s work to my manager and asked if the responsibility for the Cash Journal could be assigned to her. He was amazed, and a strong enough man to admit that he had misjudged Donna! Donna got the job.
Donna went on to take computer classes at a local technical school. She became a great asset to the department. My patience was eventually rewarded with a nice raise.
Patience made it possible for someone who was perceived as unteachable to learn new skills that benefited both her and the company. Betty was able to stop working overtime once Donna was given the Cash Journal responsibility. Donna was commended for her continually excellent work and was assigned more responsibility; enough to be given the title of Accounting Clerk. The company saved money as the department’s work was done more efficiently and at a lower pay grade.
When I told one of my interviewers that I thought patience was my biggest strength, he said that he perceived patience as a weakness. After I shared Donna’s story with him, he admitted that he had never thought of patience as an asset on the job. I did not get the job with this interviewer’s company, but I had given him something to think about. Patience is, indeed, a virtue.