Summing up the Year, in Seven Rs or Fewer

If you have been reading our newsletter regularly over the past year, you have become familiar with what we have come to call “The Seven Rs of the Successful Organization.”

In case you have forgotten, they are:

  • Relevance
  • Relationships
  • Rigor
  • Rhythm
  • Responsibility
  • Resilience
  • And the foundational one — Respect

As I look at the work we have done on the Rs over the last year, I am reminded that organizations are much like people, and it occurred to me that those same Rs that contribute to the creation of a successful organization also apply to the creation of a successful human being.

Let me tell you about one.

My friend Bobbie is 75 years old. He gets up every morning Monday through Sunday—365 days a year—at 3 a.m. and drives to work. Most days when he shows up, nobody is there to greet him. He goes into his little workroom, turns on the lights and gets ready to start the day.

Bobbie hustles for a living. He runs the shoeshine concession at the Quad City International Airport in Moline, Ill. In his little two-customer office, the walls are full of pictures of Bobbie’s friends, including Gene Baker and Ferguson Jenkins of the Chicago Cubs, Booker Edgerson of the Buffalo Bills, the many professional golfers who came to town to play in the John Deere Classic and several others. He also collects memorabilia from colleges and professional teams, but for me, three things stand out:

  • A University of Miami bandana
  • Two pictures of Bobbie and me
  • A graphic of the Seven Rs

Somehow Bobbie got a copy of an article I wrote with that graphic. He printed it, cut it out and added it to his “Wall of Fame.” He told me that everything you needed to live a successful and happy life was represented by those seven Rs.

Making a living shining shoes is about as tough as it gets. Every day you have to start over. You’ve got to have a hook, something to make the people willingly change direction and come over to your bench. If you don’t have anything relevant to say, they will just keep going. After you get them there for the first time, you’ve got to make a lasting impression. Relationships mean return business, and return business and referrals are very important to a one-man shop. If you don’t learn how to work with rigor and discipline (doing things the right way every time), you’re sure to fail. There is simply no room for error—especially when you’re 75. Who is going to hire you at that age?

Bobbie knows that the weight of the business is completely on him.

That’s where rhythm comes in. If you have ever had your shoes done by a real pro, you know that the interaction is extremely personal and intimate. There is the rolling up of the pants to keep the polish off, the laying on of the polish, the rhythmic slap of the rag as the shoes reach their final high gloss shine, the tying of the shoe laces and the final tap of your leg to indicate that the experience is complete—all accompanied by an incessant stream of conversation about the events of the day, the family, the weather and whatever sports team happens to ring your chimes. Rhythm is where the greats separate themselves in the shoeshine trade.

And Bobbie is truly great.

Responsibility is when you get your butt out of bed every day at 3 a.m. regardless of the weather or how bad you feel and drag yourself into that airport because you need to take care of your family and you know that an extra $50 or $60 may mean the difference between paying your bills and not paying them. Resilience is taking all the crap the world throws at you, not crying about it, getting up and going at it for another day.

For me, Bobbie is where the seventh R came from. Respect is something that must be earned before it is given. From the first day I met Bobbie, he earned my respect and over the years, I hope I have earned his.

So the next time you’re in the Quad City Airport, stop in and get your shoes shined. Be sure to sit under the University of Miami bandana. Talk to Bobbie. Share your life with him, and he will share his with you. When you’re done, give him a $20 bill and don’t ask for change.

You will have gotten a bargain.

Fred Crans (L) and Bobbie (R) at the airport.

Fred Crans (L) and Bobbie (R) at the airport.

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