If you’ve ever had to train a new employee, and the guy was taking a long time to catch on to tasks you could do without a moment’s thought, you might have found yourself thinking the same things as I did the other afternoon.
I was attempting to train a new worker how to use the leaf blower to herd dead leaves into one big pile. There is a profound difference between creating wind and using it to affect some purpose. His insensibility to this, and the resulting random rearrangement of leaves, led me to my first great trainer’s cliché. “It would be so much easier to just do this myself,” I thought.
But that would mean sending my trainee away discouraged. I worked with him on the rudiments of directional leaf blowing. It was a hard sell, which inspired my next trainer’s lament. “This guy has the intellectual capacity of a five-year-old,” I said to myself.
I spent 20 minutes walking sideways with him, shrinking the perimeter of ground covered by leaves. It was probably that I was uncomfortably hunched over the entire time, helping him aim the blower nozzle, that led me to my final nugget of trainer’s wisdom. “I’d be better off trying to teach a first-grader to do this,” I muttered.
This is when I discovered that statements made to relieve frustration (and back pain) lose much of their impact when reality robs them of their comforting hyperbole.
The new employee had the intellect of a five-year-old because he was exactly five years old. It wasn’t my idea to hire him for this work. He volunteered. In fact, he volunteered so vehemently that I’m sure he would have run into the house crying if I’d denied him his training.
Little boys are fascinated by power tools. Combine the necessity of plugging it in to an electrical outlet with the magic of creating wind, and the leaf blower is a kid magnet. Unfortunately, the power of the gods comes with a steep learning curve for a kindergartener.
To his credit, he stuck with the training, and the associated parental scowls, long enough to get the hang of it. When our herd of leaves was under control, I let him go solo.
He even earned a short break for the obligatory leap into the pile.
But the days grow short this time of year, and there was a large pile of leaves to vacuum and bag. He wanted to take training on this process too, but the machine was a little tall and heavy for him to hold upright. It was clear that his workday was over when he began throwing armfuls of leaves at me and shouting, “Confetti!”
In the end, he learned a little bit, and I learned a lot. I have to practice being more patient with my volunteer helpers. As to whether I would be better off trying to train a first grader, well, I guess we’ll find that out next year.