SYRACUSE.ORG: Carl Schramm on leadership: Make sure your employees know their work is meaningful


SEPTEMBER 21, 2014

Were you in leadership positions growing up?
"I didn't have particular ambitions in that direction.

Generally, people have liked working for me, because I try to make their work meaningful. I'll tell you exactly where that happened. In my sophomore year at Le Moyne, I worked at the State Office Building. I was an engineer intern for the summer.
They were building the interstate. My job was at a big drafting table figuring out how much dirt had to be moved through a part of Cortland County. It was colossally boring work.

Quitting time was like 4:30. The entire floor would form this huge semicircle of maybe 200 people at the elevators around 4:15. So I knew I wasn't by myself -- everybody hated their jobs. I told an uncle who was influential: This is the worst work I could imagine. I'm going to quit.

I got transferred to the division of canals and waterways. It was like going from hell to heaven, because you got a boat and you worked with field engineers. I learned about engineering and surveying.

I said to myself, if I am ever the boss, people are going to love their jobs, because this type of stuff doesn't have to happen. In my family, achieving college was everything. For the first time, after my freshman year, I thought holy smokes! This is what happens if you go to college? I want interesting work, and it scared me to death.

There was no sense of "We're building safe roads, we're building beautiful roads, we're building roads that will endure for centuries." There was no sense of what you were doing.

That was a searing moment."