Life and Leadership Lessons From T.J. Maxx

While I attended Bible school at age 18 I worked part-time at a store that I tenderly call “The Maxx”.

T.J. Maxx, the retail store, didn’t mean much to me at the time. I was focused on Bible school, but they were hiring part-time with evening hours and that was just what I needed. My first week on the job I just hated it. I mean I loathed it. As the new employee, I was stuck with the dressing room detail for the first three weeks. Keep in mind this was my first job ever in the retail industry, and so it was also my first experience with handling the general public in “shopping mode”. On top of that, the store overall was a mess. No one seemed to care much about their job, and it showed. The dressing rooms had an odor, the store floors were filthy, merchandise was everywhere, and the lines were slow which made for irritable customers. I was so miserable that for hours on end I would contemplate how I was going to quit. I had determined that as soon as I found another job with evening hours I was out the door. No notice required!

But then one day I went into work and all the employees were gathered together and told that the store was getting a new general manager, and that she came on the reputation of being one of the very best in the company. We were all warned that she meant business and that she ran a tight ship. The other employees were nervous about the new manager and what it would mean. However, it was of little matter to me; I was about to blow that joint the first chance that I got.

But this new manager changed everything. She re-instated standards that were always meant to have been in place. She was no-nonsense, but she also believed that every employee represented that particular store to every person that walked in the door, and that that should matter to all of us. She swiftly ushered in a new atmosphere with her excellence, and she quietly gave to each employee the understanding that she believed you could do better —she was asking, “Would you?”  We all knew that it was either going to start mattering to you, or your days were numbered.

She brought order. She entrusted employees with overseeing departments, and watched closely for progress. When progress took place, she let you know. Not in an over the top way, but in a consistent way that made her words matter even more.

She had the store cleaned, including the horrible employee break room. She raised the bar on how things operated there, and the atmosphere of the whole place changed. I watched her with employees that were older, trying but struggling, and with a few who were from other countries, still learning the ways of a new culture. She was quietly compassionate, training and encouraging them. She let them know she saw potential in them, and it made them come alive because she was the best, and if she believed in them then it must be true. I don’t know when it was exactly but at some point it donned on me that three months had past, and I forgot that I was supposed to be quitting. I had stopped looking for that new job. The environment had shifted under someone who raised the standard of the store and of each individual there.

I worked there for almost two years solely because of her. Early on in my time there over the course of a few slow nights working at the front desk with her, I found out she was a strong Christian as was her family.

We had many long talks on nights when I helped her close the store about the Lord, and about life. That warning that had been given to us as employees had been accurate—she was both tough and she was the best. But she also saw people and she taught me about leadership —that leadership isn’t a title or a position; it’s about inspiring others to a possibility that will make things better and achieve something worthwhile. Somehow, she inspired hourly, part-time employees from all different walks of life to care about the work they did because it was worth doing well. She instilled a standard, not out of an employee handbook, but out of her and it stuck. That was leadership.

Just this past week I visited my local T.J. Maxx. Absentmindedly as I was shopping I found myself picking up clothes from the floor and re-hanging them, and putting pillows back up on the shelf. When I realized what I was doing, I stopped and smiled. Miss Donna had trained me well. Years later I still cared. I didn’t even have to think about it; I just did it. That standard of excellence still mattered to me, and I still took ownership subconsciously

Standards are interesting things. Once they are instilled in you, they are meant to steer you.

Low standards = low living

High standards = high living.

If you start out with high standards and then somewhere along the way you decide to lower your standards to make room for something that really has no business being there, then you shouldn’t be surprised when life starts looking different then it used to when your standards were leading you on the high road.

High standards aren’t for the elite, the few, the special. They are for anyone who desires God’s life at His best. Anything I lower my standard to make room for is only going to replace His best with my flesh.

Life lived to flesh is death, but life lived to the Spirit is liberty and freedom in Jesus Christ His Son—the greatest standard of all time.

Galatians 6:7-8

For the one that sows to their flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but the one that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

Do not be led astray and then pull your nose up at God, as if it was God that let you down. The harvest always reveals the seed. The flesh cannot compete with spirit… the fruit of the DIY tree still produces death, while faith produces the spirit fruit of the life of the ages, the God kind of life!”

Let the standards of your spirit lead the way. There you will find a deep life, a pure life, a fulfilling life, and one that is worth living well!


[This blog is dedicated to Miss Donna. You made a grand impression on me. I am thankful that while I was going to Bible school, God used you to teach me about leadership through my part-time job. I am forever grateful.]