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How volunteering for your boss changes your trajectory

Most people do what their boss asks, but only a select few figure out what their boss really needs.

My Dad, an ex-Navy vet, who went on to a successful career in banking, once told me, “I learned early on that seeing things from my boss’ perspective changes everything.”

One of my Dad’s best stories is when he was 18 years old, fresh from training and assigned to Chief Petty Officer Charles Mitton’s unit.

A crusty tail gunner, Chief Mitton had two planes shot out from under him, and was on a carrier when the Japanese sunk it. He survived.

Feared by the young recruits, “The Chief” as my Dad referred to him, had a practice of requesting volunteers for the grungier jobs.

My Dad says, “Most of us wound up in the Navy for lack of a better plan. We weren’t very motivated. We followed the “never volunteer” rule. Since nobody came forward, Chief Mitton always selected someone.”

My Dad’s best friend in the unit was 17-year-old Al Schwartz, who dropped out of 10th grade to enlist. One day Al said to my Dad, “I think The Chief asks for volunteers because he doesn’t like to assign nasty jobs. I bet if we volunteered, he would find a way to reward us.”

My Dad disagreed, “Why would a tough guy like The Chief be afraid to assign a dirty job to a bunch of lowlifes like us?” But Al was his friend, so my Dad reluctantly agreed to go along with his plan.

Dad says, “When The Chief requested volunteers to cut grass around the ammunition dumps, our hands went up. After hours dragging old push mowers up and down endless hills of weeds, in the scalding Virginia heat, Al and I proudly told The Chief, “We’re done!” His response was a curt, “Thanks.”

Undeterred – well at least Al was undeterred – they volunteered twice more, for equally unpleasant duties, and all The Chief said was, “Thanks.”

Dad tells the rest of the story, “I was ready to give up, but I agreed to volunteer once more. The next job was replacing several 100-pound airplane machine guns so the plane could fly that night. Our haste and inexperience cost us several badly mangled fingers. The Chief took one look at our black and blue fingers, and asked why we were volunteering so much. Al said, “Chief I don’t think you actually like to assign the dirty jobs, so I figured if we volunteered you would appreciate it.”

Dad says, “The Chief didn’t say anything for a long while and I swear I saw his eyes tear up. I’m thinking, this guy shot down enemy planes with the tail of his own plane blown apart, and now he’s about to cry because Schwartz has discovered he’s actually a nice guy.”

After a long pause The Chief said, “You’re right! – Now take tomorrow off to let those fingers heal and, by the way, keep on volunteering.”

Dad said. “From that moment on, we were the golden boys of the unit. The Chief gave us plenty of tough jobs, but he also gave us extra time off; and even invited us to the “Old Gunner’s Card Game.”

Dad says, “The benefits I reaped from seeing the boss’ point of view are too numerous to mention. I never would have guessed that those two sweaty kids pushing mowers would go as far as we did. But thanks to Al’s good sense and initiative, I learned a lesson I never forgot.”