Straight Talk

Dec. 21, 2004
Barbershop management is razor sharp.

Paul is my barber. I'm his first customer on Monday morning every three weeks at 7:30 a.m. sharp. Because I don't have much hair on top, the sessions rarely last more than 15 or 20 minutes. But the experience is one I look forward to with anticipation. And what I learn is invaluable. Because Paul is one of the shrewdest management consultants I know. Yet, he has no idea how sound his management techniques are. Or how rare. Paul is a high school graduate. He says he reads a lot. He asks a lot of questions. He's a guy who loves to talk. But the man has uncanny common sense and the uncommon talent of articulating his thoughts with the quiet sincerity of a humble apologist. It's obvious that his four employees like their boss. But what is even more obvious is that they respect him. Now, I don't take notes while I'm chatting with Paul. So what I recall him saying may have a bit of my spin on it. But what is important is that it makes good sense. At least it does to me. See if you agree:

  • "It doesn't make sense to expect my associates to do something I want them to do when they don't know how. Or why. That's why I talk to them a lot. Then we learn from each other."
  • "Trust is important. The hardest thing for a barber is to shave a customer who doesn't trust him. And it can't be too easy for the customer, either."
  • "If a new customer asks me for a light trim, and I give him a crew cut because I think it looks better, there goes my new customer!"
  • "I rarely talk politics or religion to my customers. They don't care who I'm going to vote for or what church I go to. What they care about when they're sitting in this chair is how good or bad they're going to look when I'm finished with them."
  • "Using common sense is the most uncommon thing employers do."
  • "Besides learning to see things as they are, I've learned not to see things that aren't."
  • "Ignorance is never an excuse; it's usually the problem."
  • "Cutting hair is what I do for fun. Reading is what I do seriously."
  • "When you keep doing what you did, you keep getting what you got."
  • "Life hasn't been easy. That's why I had to be strong."
  • "I don't like to argue. I like to converse."
  • "When one can't manage himself, how can he expect to manage others? What are people for? What is living for? What is working about? If the answers to these questions are dignity, decency, democracy, and opportunity, then "power over" must be replaced by "power with." That's what's happening in Paul's Barber Shop.
    Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Media Inc., author of the recently published Management Rhymes and Reason, and an IW contributing editor. His e-mail address is [email protected].
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