Fred Muse – Thank You

My first job out after graduating from Washington University in Saint Louis was with Monsanto.  Gene Krajack hired me, placed me in the Agricultural Division, and promptly relocated me to eastern Washington state for training.  At that time, I literally did not know the difference between a tractor and a combine.  Their job was to teach me what I needed to know about agriculture and eventually become a productive member of the team.  Wow, did they have their work cut out for them.

How to Alienate Everyone

I remember my first meeting.  It was a cold, rainy November afternoon at a non-descript hotel meeting room.  I entered the room dressed professionally and was staring at a room full of folks in jeans and flannel.  They smiled and asked me a few questions about myself.  I took the bait and told them about my schooling, and degree and background and a bunch of other things that they had no interest in hearing.  Within 30 minutes the entire room was ready to see my back side.  Of course, in my arrogance, I had no idea.  I got to talk about myself, was proud of my accomplishments, and had absolutely zero perception of self.

Unbeknownst to me, by the end of the afternoon, NOBODY in that room wanted to be my trainer.  Short straw was drawn by Fred Muse.  Fred was in his 60’s, born and raised on a farm, and was a Monsanto lifer.  He was the picture of the grizzled old farmer.  He did not speak much but when he spoke, folks listened.

Rebuilding

Our first meeting was in his living room in a tiny town.  It was over 30 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday.  He said – “Rick, do you mind if I share something with you in the ‘for what it’s worth department’?”  I said ‘No, I don’t mind’.  He then said – “Rick, in 30 minutes you managed to get everyone to hate you.’  Fred then paused and said, ‘I don’t know if this is recoverable but if you would like to try, I will try and help”.  Fred proceeded to share with me what I said and how it was received.  Up to that point in my life, I had never thought about how my actions and words were received.  My head was spinning.  My world literally flipped upside down.  Fred then explained that I would need to develop a concept called ‘humility’ if I wanted to survive in the role.  He then set me on a course that I am still working on today.

We pulled out an old piece of loose-leaf paper and wrote the following words –

Ask a Question,
Shut Up & Listen To The Answer,
Ask a Related Question,
Shut Up & Listen To The Answer,
Repeat,
Shut Up
.’

In Process

I am still working on this today.  In many ways, What Fred taught me was the core of real learning.  When you talk, you are not listening.  If you are not listening, you are not learning.  Everyone has something to teach you.  It is your job to respect the person enough to listen and learn.

Finally, humility is not weakness.  It is possible to be both humble and strong; humble and confident.   Thirty-five years year, I am still working on it… not perfect, but better.

Fred has long since passed but I want to say ‘Thank You’.