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Why the Little Man Can't Get Ahead

aka The Story of the $250,000 Camaro


by Glenn Shepard
June 9, 2015
Category:  Management & Motivation


Rapid City, SD June 16
Pierre, SD June 17
Wichita Falls, TX June 24
Dallas, TX June 25

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Dear Glenn,

     I'm the only part-time employee at a small organization.  The employee manual states that full time employees are eligible for benefits that include health insurance and paid time off.         
     After two years of employment, I have not had a performance review or a pay increase.  I spoke to my supervisor four months ago and expressed my interest to work 30 hours per week to become eligible for benefits.  After a month, I followed up in writing.         
    She sent an E-mail, copying her boss, stating that the vacant position I had asked for would not be filled.  My reply apologized for the confusion, explained that I hadn't asked for that position and restated my request to work a few extra hours each week to become eligible for benefits.  I mentioned my duration of service, cited some positive contributions I've made, and requested that it be considered.  I did not hear back, and have followed up twice (copying her boss each time) and no one has responded. 
     During this time, my supervisor has become distant and struggles to make eye contact with me.    
     I would really like your advice on next steps for handling this in a manner that makes everyone is comfortable.

- Adrienne in Baltimore

Dear Adrienne,

    Because health insurance is so expensive, it's  understandable that you would want it provided by your employer. It's also  understandable that an employer will try to avoid paying it for a position that can be filled on a part time basis.
    This is not an ideological or political matter, it's just simple math.
    It's time to move on and find another job with another company. I know people in Baltimore and contrary to what the media may try to tell you, there's plenty of opportunity there for someone who's willing to work.
    Thanks for your question and good luck in your new job search.

- Glenn in Nashville, TN

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Dr. Jim Sniechowski, a dear friend who was also the best man at my wedding, says that people try to rationalize their situations by building castles around themselves.  

He calls them "Rational Castles", and says the smarter the person is, the more brilliant the Rational Castle is.

(Jim is a psychologist who was recently recruited by LinkedIn and moved to California to coach their young executives as the company's explosive growth continues.)

He is so right about that, and it is so unfortunate that so many people build these castles.

One of the most common is “Little Man Syndrome”.

These people see themselves as small fish that don’t stand a chance of getting ahead in a big sea. Comments such as “The little man can’t get ahead” become a self fulfilling prophesy.

From a financial and career standpoint, most people are small when compared to someone like Bill Gates. But just because someone starts small doesn't mean they have to stay small.

John Schnatter was small when he began making pizza in the broom closet of his father’s tavern near Louisville, Kentucky in 1983.

Because Domino’s already had over 1,000 stores and Pizza Hut had over 4,000 at the time, the odds were overwhelmingly against him.

Had he told anyone that he was going to take on Domino’s and Pizza Hut, they might have told him "The little man can’t get ahead”.

But he was so convinced that anyone can get ahead that he sold his 1972 Camaro Z-28 to buy $1600 worth of pizza equipment.

By the late nineties, his company, Papa John's, had become so popular that Pizza Hut co- founder Frank Carney began buying Papa John’s franchises.

Too many people sabotage their own success by viewing their companies as all powerful and themselves as powerless. They think they’re at the whim of the company, and don't realize it’s actually the other way around.

Companies have no power without good employees. Lee Iacocca said “All business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product, and profits. Unless you've got a good team, you can't do much with the other two.”

Some people are so entrenched in this thinking that they develop a “we versus them” mentality. I’ve met people who actually believe managers enjoy firing people.

Managers get no pleasure from firing people. They’re often overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, failure, and sadness. Managers fail when employees fail. Your boss wants you to succeed.

An engineer from San Francisco who sat beside me on a flight to Dallas argued that her boss couldn’t care less about whether she succeeds. She claimed that he was a lazy jerk who didn’t care about anyone but himself and wanted her to fail.

She missed the big picture. He doesn’t want her to fail even if he is as she described him. Her failure would mean more work for him. He needs her to succeed at her job so that he won’t have to do the job himself.

No matter where you are in your career, no one can hold you back but yourself. There are no "little people", just people who think small.

To Your Success,

P.S. In 2009, John Schnatter found and bought back his old Camaro for $250,000. He celebrated by offering Fr** Papa John's pizza to anyone who owned a Camaro.