Worried about your job these days? Many people are. From this I’m reminded of the rapid turnover of generals within the Union Army in the early going of the Civil War. Lincoln had a heck of a time finding a capable man to lead the Army of the Potomac.

Take a sip of General Grant's whiskey

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

When Lincoln finally found such a leader in Ulysses S. Grant, the president was pressured to fire him. Among the complaints Lincoln heard was that Grant drank too much. Lincoln persisted in protecting the general from critics, by saying, “I cannot spare this man. He fights.”

Finding a friend in a boss that supports you is not easy. But what Grant found was a simple, yet effective, form of self-sufficiency, and a trait that can be easily transferred to the business world: He made himself so valuable that nothing short of blatant misconduct or insubordination could unseat him.

In today’s jargon, Grant became, for lack of a better term: The Man.

In today’s unsettled work environment, just about anyone is vulnerable to being laid off.

Fortunately, while the food business is not recession-proof, it has proven at the very least to be recession-resistant.

However, produce department jobs are as exposed as any. Business doesn’t hesitate to trim ranks in order to meet salary goals or head counts.

Following the Gen. Grant example, the key to survival is to become as valuable as possible. How many shifts can you cover? If you limit yourself to specializing in a single area, this is be a good time to broaden your horizons. Ask for added training to become familiar with tasks you need help with.

Also, take a look at what your direct supervisor does. If you can learn how to help with some of those management tasks, such as writing orders or helping to keep the invoices accounted for, your net worth will go up considerably.

Don’t stop within the produce department either. Talk to the store manager and volunteer to be trained in other areas. If you can unload trucks, cover in other departments or even stay after your closing shift and throw grocery freight with the night crew. These are all-encompassing skills that will not go unnoticed should the order come down to reduce hours — or worse.

You might be criticized for showing such initiative, but a good leader will protect that too. In fact, Lincoln shot down critics who persisted that Grant be fired for the drinking rumors. The anecdote persists that Lincoln responded by asking what brand of whiskey Gen. Grant favored — so he could send a case to all of his other (inept) generals.

Quote: “Value depends entirely on utility.” — William Jevons (1871)

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. E-mail armandlobato@comcast.net.

Do you have any tips on how to become indispensable at work? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.