Sunday, July 28, 2013

Leadership Lesson I Learned at the Age of 11, and Needed Again

I started a new job, and I'm excited about it. It's a management job, but also a very 'hands on' job. Like any job, regardless of previous experience, there are things that have to be learned.

In the case of this job, I have to learn to manage people in a restaurant. It's a large restaurant, and there are a lot of people, including a lot of managers.

One of the things I like about the place is that the servers carry food on trays, and they carry the trays on their shoulder. It's an impressive sight, and servers have been carrying food that way, in that location, for over 100 years.

There was a problem. I was afraid to carry food on a tray. I worried about picking the tray up without spilling it. I worried I might dump it on someone by accident. Planting noodles on someones head is not my idea of a wonderful experience...for anyone concerned.

I have the enviable task (and I mean that sincerely) of getting to learn about every department in a large restaurant. Cool stuff!

I made it through the first couple of days of training without lifting or carrying a tray. People told me that was okay. In my new position, I won't have to carry a tray.

I almost let myself get away with that. Almost.

A friend of mine once gave me a photo of an Eagle. The caption of the photo is simple. Leadership is Action. I believe that. Leadership is action.

These are not small trays, by the way. They're about two feet across and three or four feet long. We load them heavily.

I worried about carrying the tray. I rationalized, as demonstrated above, a way out of carrying trays.

In the end, it was my eleven-year-old self that kicked me into (here's that word again) action.

Now we come to the title of this post. I needed my eleven-year-old-self to teach older me a lesson.
That lesson was learned when I failed a basic BSA swim test my first year as a camper. The Boy Scouts call you a "swimmer", as opposed to a beginner, when you can swim 100 yards and float for a minute.

I failed my swim test the first year. It was not a big deal to anyone but me. Swimmers could go out in a canoe. I couldn't, unless I had a buddy who was a swimmer who would take responsibility for me. I couldn't go out on one of the small sailboats. I couldn't go into the deep water, or use the high dive.

It wasn't a big deal to me until I got elected to the position of patrol leader. I thought about summer camp, and I worried about the swim test. It was okay for Tenderfoot Scout Dave Steele to flunk the swim test.

I felt that a patrol leader ought to be able to pass a simple swim test. It's not a BSA requirement. In fact, I fell into a happy time period when an Eagle Scout could earn Scouting's highest rank without getting swimming merit badge.

I spent several nights convincing myself I could pass the swim test. I convinced myself that I had to pass the swim test. In my head, I went over it stroke by stroke.

When summer camp rolled around... I passed the swim test. I didn't pass it with flying colors. I snorted a bunch of the lake through my nose and sent it out my ears like a whale spout. I floated for a minute. By floating, I mean that I was somewhere between the surface of the water and the bottom of the lake.

...I passed. Had I not passed the first time, I would have done nothing else all week until I passed. It wasn't really about me. It was about leadership.

The first day of server training came and went, and I did not lift a tray. The second day of server training came and went and I did not lift a tray.

I didn't feel good about that. No one pressured me to carry a tray. I decided--me, and that 11-year-old Boy Scout that still kicks around inside me--that I would carry a tray like every server and most managers.

So, I borrowed a tray and brought it home. I piled it with dishes and walked around our dining room--dodging cats. At the restaurant, we never have to carry trays up stairs...but I did it at home. I picked it up. I put it down. I thought about putting a cat on the tray, but ruled that out. By then I was having fun, and the cats were hiding.

Today I showed up for work, determined to carry as many trays as the job required. I was nervous. As nervous as a cat with a lunatic in the house carrying trays of dishes up and down the stairs.

I did it! I don't know how many trays of food I carried through the crowded dining room. I don't know how many times I picked up a tray and put it down. After a few times, it became routine. I almost dropped one, but managed to slide my hand into a better position and didn't spill a drop of soup or soda. (Let's not talk about the puddle I almost made in my pants when I felt it slide.)

Leadership is action.