Earlier this year, I was enjoying dinner at a local fast-food restaurant. As it was peak time, the lines quickly grew long, and people were having a hard time finding an open table. However, even if it hadn’t been right in the middle of the dinner rush, people would’ve still had a hard time finding a clean table, because many empty tables were still littered with napkins and trays from previous diners. Try as the staff might, it was apparent the restaurant was short-staffed on that day. The employees behind the counter were doing the best they could just to fill orders.
Making matters worse, I noticed the restaurant manager just standing off to the side and merely observing his staff. He went from staring off into space to gazing impassively at the crowded dining room and littered tables. It was evident to me he was not going to pitch in and help his workers by clearing off any of the tables. Did this so-called leader think that helping his employees cleanup was beneath him?
This fast-food manager instantly brought back memories of a boss I had many years ago. “Snooty” is the best way to describe him. To put it frankly, the boss thought he was better than the other people on the team, simply because he was the boss. He allowed his title to go to his head. He would walk through our department with his nose high in the air. This guy thought his job was so much tougher than the tasks his staff performed. And while it is true that he had a tough job, so did everyone on his team. When I worked for him, I wondered why he acted so arrogantly, and if he understood that he needed us to succeed if he expected to succeed also.
As a leader, do you want to make an impact and influence others? Do you want to improve the environment or culture in your workplace? Do you want others to follow you? Do you want to inspire loyalty from others? Well, then, the buck stops with you! You need to look in the mirror and become intentional with your actions. Show others what to do! You must lead the way. Your team makes choices every day based on what you are doing or not doing. Your team will follow your lead.
My mentor, Ross Reishus, who passed away about two years ago, told a story during his supervision training classes that sent the message loud and clear on the importance of a leader leading by example. He told the story…
In the military, there are two types of leaders who will send you into battle. The first is the leader who fights alongside you. They are in the trenches with you! The ones who’ll save your life! The other is the leader who’ll put you out there first as they stand safely behind the lines.
On a cold, dark winter morning, a lone soldier rode out of his encampment and happened upon a group of his comrades desperately trying to finish building a wall. Each time they were about to place the final log, it would fall, exhausting the men and destroying their morale. The only reason they kept at it was a corporal, who stood to the side and barked orders.
The soldier asked the Corporal why he wasn't helping his men. “Don’t you see? I’m a Corporal!” He snapped, not realizing who he was talking to at the moment. Without another word, the solider dismounted and helped the struggling infantrymen place the final timber. Then, he told the men that if they needed further assistance, to send for him by name — George Washington, their Commander-in-Chief.
Why would George Washington stop to help build a wall, when not even a Corporal would go to the trouble? Because: the leader who would become the father of our country knew that the war would not be won without earning the loyalty of the troops. He understood our country's success depended on their success.
Although delegation is vital for any leader's success, a leader must never forget how to get down from their high horse and roll up their sleeves. There is no better way to let their team know that we are all in this together. Leaders, if you want to succeed, you must help your team succeed first.