Valuable Leadership Lessons From A Racist Foot Locker Manager…

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My first job after college, before my basketball career began, was at Foot Locker. 

Though I had no experience with the company, and I’d never sold sneakers before, my college degree got me hired on the “Management Track.” 

I would spend a month or so working alongside Keith, the head manager, and the store assistant manager learning the ropes of managing a store before becoming a full-fledged assistant. 

Keith, the head manager, was a Foot Locker lifer who’d worked his way up through the ranks of the company. 

He taught me everything about how things went, from working the registers to checking in DHL and UPS shipments of merchandise to opening and closing the store to handling employees.

Keith was about 6’2”, bald and husky with no muscle tone and pale White, a classic redneck and closet racist who would make mildly inappropriate comments about young Black teens who’d come in Foot Locker to browse and try on shoes but never buy anything. 

Keith’s favorite tactic for releasing his energy about these kids was to refer to them as “dirty” after they’d left the store. 

I doubt Keith would get away with talking like that now, but this was before these statements could get you in trouble. 

The employees at Foot Locker outside of the managers were part time workers who’d clock somewhere between 15-30 hours per week each. 

Keith had hired all of the store staff himself, yet he didn’t try to hide the scorn he held for part-time employees. He didn’t trust or respect part time workers. 

Whenever Keith would have a “training” conversation with me for my future handling of staff, he emphasized one phrase, over and over again. 

“Be A Dick.”

That was Keith’s pet phrase for dealing with his employees. The people that he himself had chosen. 

“Dre. Be. A. DICK. 

“I’m telling you: With these part-timers, don’t be friendly with them. Don’t let them feel like they’re your buddy — because they’ll walk all over you. 

“Don’t allow them to slack off. Don’t let them stand around doing nothing. Make them fold clothes or organize boxes in the back. Have them clean the glass. Keep them working. 

“BE A DICK!!” 

I don’t know what became of Keith after I quit Foot Locker. Barring him saying some veiled racist shit and being exposed for it, I bet Keith is still in retail management, and he’s still who he is and he didn’t have the people skills to do much of anything else. 

The one positive thing I can say about Keith is that, in his non-tactful way, he was absolutely right in spirit about dealing with mercenaries who are doing something just for the paycheck: they don’t give a damn about the work as much as they care about what they stand to get for the work. 

Let them slack, and they will slack. 

Accept shorts, and you’ll get shorted. 

Being a dick— or, in PC-speak, being assertive, demanding, and uncompromising — produces much better results than friendliness does. 

Think about him what you want, but no Foot Locker employees bullshitted around Keith. His style produced results. 

I’m sure there are other management styles that can work just as well (or better) than Keith’s did. 

Maybe he could have hired better people, and he wouldn’t have the “part timer” problem. 

Perhaps if he wasn’t so cynical about (Black) people, he wouldn’t have created the energy he had with his staff. 

Lots of things could’ve been different. 

Two things I know, though: 1) Keith knew who he was. 2) His “be a dick” management style worked. 

Speaking of being who you are, I wrote a book that took 2 full years of my thoughts, observations and actions and compiled them into one tome. It’s called Dre Philosophy Vol. 0, and you can get it here: http://WorkOnMyGame.com/DP 

#WorkOnYourGame 

-Dre Baldwin 

You’re Just One Bold Move Away…

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