I was given an assignment on my first day in my human resources position in 1989. This assignment was to form a committee with all the other HR managers in the company. My manager wanted to ensure consistency across the company. At the time, I did not see the huge impact this would have on my life, career, and friendships.
There were 16 of us that handled HR duties for our department across the company. We met in Dallas, elected a chairman, (not me because I didn’t have a clue) and continued to meet quarterly for many years.
This committee allowed me to establish friendships and tap into mentors that had been in Human Resources for many years. I cannot describe the impact of this committee on both my professional and personal life. If you have peers that do what you do, believe me, everyone benefits when experiences are combined and shared.
One of the gentlemen in the Human Resources committee was Dick Welt from Kansas City. He had years of HR experience. I quickly grabbed his coat tail and used him as a mentor and resource.
One night, while having dinner in St. Louis, Missouri, Dick asked the age of my daughters. They were 13 and 15 at the time. He said, “I’ve noticed you have been putting in a lot of hours by the weekend and late-night voice mails.” (At this time in my life and career, I was in the mode of a 65-75 hour, self-imposed work week.)
He said, don’t get me wrong; I’m not picking them up late at night or on the weekends, but I need to share the bucket story with you.
When he was promoted to management, he attended a seminar. At the door was a table, two buckets, and an instruction card. He had to put his finger in the first bucket filled with water, pull out his finger, dry his hand and move to the second bucket. He then had to place his finger in the second bucket filled with sand or silt, pull out his finger, wipe it off and sit down. He said he didn’t have a clue what the buckets represented.
When the instructor arrived in the class, he said you’re probably wondering about those two buckets at the back of the room. The first bucket, you stick your finger down in the water, you occupy space, you remove your finger, and the water fills back in immediately. It is like you were never there. I hate to admit it, but that’s your company. If you leave tomorrow, they will probably fill your vacancy, and it will quickly be like you were never there.
The second bucket, when you stick your finger in the sand or silt, you also occupy space but when you remove your finger, you leave a void. Over time, the sand or silt will shift around and fill in but it takes a long time. The sand or silt is your family.
Dick Welt could not have hit me in the head with a brick and had any more impact on me. He made me realize how I had my priorities out of order. After sharing the story, he didn’t criticize or condemn me, he changed the subject. There is an old cliché; when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I was ready that night in St. Louis, and the teacher appeared as my friend and mentor, Dick Welt.
The Rest Of The Story.
I would love to say I immediately changed my work week to 40 hours but no, I didn’t. However, I did begin making gradual changes as a direct result of The Bucket Story. One of the changes is shared below.
March 13, 1994, was a normal Sunday at the Gilbert household. My wife, Sandy, got her and our two daughters ready for church. I got up and went to work. Before you judge me, I always took off early on Sunday, somewhere around 4:00 PM. This Sunday was different. This Sunday was four days after Dick had shared the bucket story with me.
I arrived at the office between 8:30 and 9:00 AM. It didn’t hit me for an hour but when it did, I couldn’t shake it. There it was. The bucket story. It seemed I couldn’t work for more than 30 minutes without the bucket story surfacing in my mind. Finally, at 1 PM I’d had enough. I locked up and headed home.
At that time, my oldest daughter, Amber, and I had a running battle on who could make the most consecutive free throws. Whenever a new record was set, I scratched the date, the number of consecutive free throws and the initials of the record holder of the goal post in our driveway. We had started with low numbers, and I currently held the record of 15 consecutive free throws. This was bugging Amber because she was very competitive.
As I pulled into my street, I noticed Amber on the free-throw line. I knew she was going for my record. I parked on the street, walked over to the driveway and began throwing the ball back. In the next 15 minutes, I witnessed my daughter make 32 consecutive free throws.
I retrieved the screwdriver, scratched the new record on the goal post and immediately announced my retirement from future free throw competitions. I felt youth would continue to hold that record. I would stick to playing HORSE, which I also seldom won.
Here’s what scares me absolutely to death. What would have happened if Dick Welt had not cared enough about me to share the bucket story? It is very possible; no, it is probable, an excited phone call would have notified me or I would’ve left my office at my normal Sunday time of 4 PM.
I would have driven into my driveway and would have been greeted with the excitement of my wife and two daughters screaming “Amber made 32 consecutive free throws. You need to scratch it on the goal post.”
It would not have been the same. I am so thankful I witnessed the breaking of my record. I attribute my presence at this wonderful family memory to a story I needed to hear from a friend and mentor.
I have since shared this story with thousands. I have seen eyes begin to sweat as I share it (eyes sweating is a manly way of saying I wept like a small child). I have been humbled by the feedback on this story. I will continue to share this story as long as I speak and teach. Future Volumes of “The Power Of Better” series will always contain the bucket story because I think it is important everyone hear it and take an inward look at their priorities.
We can always make more money, but time is a finite resource. Use it like you own it.
Photo: Flickr/ AZS – MR
This content was taken from Greg Gilbert’s new leadership book; “The Power Of Better Series, Volume I – Leading Like You Own It! Why We Never Wax A Rental Car” available on Amazon or his website at PowerOfBetterUniversity.com