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It's Story Time: Just Doing My Job
By Steve Cokkinias
It was April 1997 and I was enjoying my time at one of my favourite hotel jobs of all time - "Front Drive Supervisor" at a massive 1500 room Walt Disney World hotel in Orlando, Florida. It was a fun job: I wore shorts to work, had a radio and a headset, and directed traffic and got to drive some fantastic cars. But most importantly, my job was to keep the traffic moving.
The front entrance of the hotel was seven full car lanes wide, and at the time (and perhaps still) was the largest covered hotel driveway in the South-Eastern United States of America. The first 3 lanes, closest to the front of the hotel, were for cars only, and were separated from the other 4 lanes by a sidewalk that ran parallel to the front of the building. And one critical function of mine was to keep that 3rd lane clear at all times, for car traffic that was passing through. In fact, my manager at the time, Johann, made it perfectly clear to me on my first day on the job: "Keep the 3rd lane clear, and don't let ANYBODY stop or park their car in that lane, EVER." Got it.
But on that particular peaceful night, the unthinkable happened...my relaxation was ruined by the red and white flashing lights and sirens of an ambulance, screeching around the corner on what was apparently an emergency call to the hotel. And despite my best efforts, despite my waving arms and the squeal of my referee whistle (and for those who know me, I am hard to miss), the ambulance driver ignored me, pulled into MY sacred 3rd lane, and parked. And before I could say "move it along", the driver and the two paramedics all jumped out of the ambulance, and ran inside. The ambulance sat in MY precious 3rd lane, flashing lights and engine on, just staring at me. Mocking me. Time stood still.
It was driving me nuts. It was blocking the pass-through lane. The lane I had sworn to protect with my life. And engine on, lights flashing? It was just too much to bear. So I slowly and carefully looked left and right, and, convinced that I was the highest-ranking employee in sight, made my first of many very bad decisions: I was going to move the ambulance myself.
The driver's door was un-locked, and the ambulance was on, idling in "park". So I pulled myself up into the driver's seat, put the ambulance into "drive", and took it around the side of the hotel, lights still flashing. I looped around the building, pulled the ambulance back onto the front drive area, but into the FOURTH lane, on the other side of the dividing sidewalk. I parked it right in the center, lined up with the front entrance doors of the hotel. The paramedics and driver could not possibly miss it when they came out. I ensured the ambulance was in park, turned the vehicle off, and left the keys in the ignition.
And about 10 minutes later, out they came. They had, I later learned, treated a guest who was having an allergic reaction to something, and as they did not need to bring the guest to the hospital, the three came out alone, just as they had gone in, with their bags and medical kits in hand. Little did I know, a new emergency was just about to begin.
"WHO MOVED MY AMBULANCE ??" came the bellowing shout from the red-faced driver, as he ran towards the vehicle in a heated rage. "WHO TOUCHED IT??"
"Um, I did" I replied, one hand raised like a school-boy. "I was signalling when you pulled up....you can't park in the 3rd lane, so I just moved it over to the 4th lane for you. You're welcome."
"WE CAN PARK WHEREVER WE WANT!!!" echoed the reply. "AND YOU TURNED IT OFF? ARE YOU CRAZY? DO YOU HAVE A LICENSE AND CERTIFICATION TO DRIVE AN AMBULANCE??" I was suddenly learning a lot, in a very short period of time. And what I learned was this: not only are you required to have a special operator's license to drive an ambulance (who knew?) but you can NEVER just turn an ambulance OFF. Apparently an ambulance has all sorts of life-saving equipment and technology and coolers and computers that need to be properly powered-off before turning off the vehicle ignition (again, who knew?). If someone DID simply turn off the ignition, it's like shutting off your desk-top computer by yanking the power plug out of the wall. Except... ten times worse.
They took down my name and the next day wrote a 2-page formal complaint letter to the General Manager of the hotel, but I was 1-step ahead of them, as before leaving that very night, I had slipped an "explanation letter" under the General Manager's door, pre-empting him about what had happened. You see, I was "just doing my job as instructed." And my G.M. saved both me and the situation, smoothed things over with the hospital and ambulance team, and taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes just "doing your job as instructed" gets in the way of "doing the right thing". And I haven't made that mistake again since.
About the author
Steve Cokkinias is the Founder & CEO of InnSense Leadership (www.innsense.com)which he established in 2012 after a successful 17-year career in the hospitality industry that included senior positions with Ritz-Carlton, Westin, and Sheraton in the U.S.A, Caribbean, and Asia. An inspiring and sought-after speaker and executive coach, Steve has delivered energizing programs on service, leadership, and talent management to a wide range of international companies. During his 9 years as General Manager in Kuala Lumpur, his hotel was named "Best Employer in Malaysia" 4 times consecutively by Hewitt & Associates, earning him a place on Human Capital Asia's "Hot 40 - Asia's H.R. Superstars". In 2010, Steve was named Malaysia's "General Manager of the Year" by the Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards. His new book, "InnSanity - Leadership Lessons from a Lifetime in Luxury Lodging", is due for release in early 2013. Steve can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow Steve on Twitter: @stevecokkinias.
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