Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

My friends and family frequently say I grew up watching too much television.

So it’s no coincidence that when I ended up in the fresh produce industry I already had some TV-inspired characters engrained in mind in regard to management styles.

It’s true. When a new produce manager steps into a role, they naturally have previous managers that have had some influence on their style. As did I. Or, perhaps others were fortunate enough to study management methods in business or psychology courses in college.

My first management idol? Actor McLean Stevenson. Well, rather his television character from the 1970’s TV series, “M*A*S*H,” Col. Henry Blake.

I liked Col. Blake, as many readers will recall, because of his laid-back style. Henry wasn’t exactly by-the-book Army material. He tied fishing flies at his desk and even wore some in his hat. The unit he commanded worked hard but it was loosely regulated. Of course Henry’s charges loved him, and despite the hijinks in the camp everyone seemed to get the job done.

That’s the kind of leader-produce manager I initially aspired to be. Yikes.

In our company’s internal management classes, I learned that the closest term for this kind of leadership style is called laissez-faire. Laissez-faire means being hands-off, allowing group members to make the decisions. Of course Col. Blake’s style was this and then some.

I soon learned in my apprentice stage that emulating Col. Blake’s management style was a mistake.

Col. Potter

Fortunately, as “M*A*S*H” continued and Col. Blake was killed off, along came replacement Col. Sherman T. Potter. Harry Morgan’s character brought his own approach to humor and eccentric behavior, but he was not the milquetoast leader portrayed by Stevenson.

In fact, Col. Potter’s style in getting the 4077th shipshape and actually leading his team was exactly the kind of influence I needed. Especially after finding out (the hard way) that running a produce department laissez-faire style simply doesn’t work. Using the balanced task-management, firm-line, Col. Potter approach, leading a produce department turned out far more successful.

In the end I discovered, much like Col. Potter proved, that it takes a healthy dose of discipline to manage and lead people. I found that even while I encouraged input from my team it was still my decisions, my produce department. I was solely accountable. It’s a good thing to emulate several management styles. Even if a few are fictional characters.

Now about the whole Mary Ann vs. Ginger thing —

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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