Monday, February 14, 2011

All We Need Is Love

Last Friday, I found myself with a small amount of time. It was too long before my aerobics class to just go and sit at the gym, and long enough to run to a nearby post office to send off some packages to my niece and nephew for Valentine's Day. The place was busy, I was not the only one waiting until the last minute. This was not my usual post office and I was surprised by how kind everyone was. In fact, I actually had the thought, "This has got to be the friendliest post office anywhere." As I was getting my mailings prepared, I heard three different men help three different older women with doors, packages or with some piece of equipment. Everyone was speaking friendly to each other. There was a palpable positive vibe in the place as people laughed and kindly greeted one another.

That was until 4:27 rolled around. A worker decided to lock the doors to the counter service portion of the post office in preparation for that part of the post office to be closed at 4:30. People running inside the post office to get in line in the last minutes of the business day were incredibly frustrated and some angered to find the doors already closed. The man who had locked in the doors stood on just the other side and refused to let anyone else in. One customer even stood and argued with the man, yelling at him through the glass, but he refused to open the doors for him. There was no apologies, no regret. The doors were closed and that was it. People began walking around the outside lobby area, seemingly frustrated with everyone. They were trying to figure out the automated services and angered by anyone who was ahead of them in line. As all of the fussing and complaining echoed around the lobby, the tension level rose. At this time, I was already mailing my packages through the automated service so I was not particularly shaken by the change of events. That was until I got into my car and tried to leave the parking lot. The same people who had just minutes before been so happy to help each other now were in a fight for their lives to get out of the parking lot as soon as possible. It literally took me ten minutes to get out of the parking lot! Most of that time was spent trying to back out of my parking space!

It is amazing what a difference a little common courtesy, kindness and grace can make in the world. It's like that old commercial where one kind deed breeds another. May we be the kind of leaders who realize that keeping order and following protocol is not always the most important thing. May we be the kind of people who, in a world of doors closing early, continue to open doors, help others and be gracious in parking lots. A little kindness and grace go along way.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Plastic Forks and Duct Tape

Yesterday morning I was out running errands and needed to pick up lunch to eat at the office. Being gluten intolerant, I can't just go anywhere so I decided to place a take out order for PF Chang's, which has a wonderful gluten free menu. As the waitress was putting my lemon chicken coated in sauce in a bag, I mentioned that I needed utensils. She smile apologetically and giggled saying, "Sorry, we ran out of our disposal utensils. So, we don't have any." I just stood there and said something like, "I guess I will just have to figure out how to eat this then." She smiled and walked away, leaving me dumb founded. Now, I work in a building that has a kitchen, so getting a fork is not a real problem for me, but what about everyone else? Could no one on staff run out to get some plastic utensils? This restaurant was located in a busy shopping district, where there were many other restaurants and stores. And why was it my problem as the customer? Why, in this nice restaurant, is no one taking leadership in fixing such a simple problem, especially a problem that would be a real hindrance to most of their take out customers?

It reminded me of something I learned a few years ago. I was working as a summer missionary for a church start in New York City. Our goal was to reach out to young professionals on the upper west-side of Manhattan. In order to connect with this population, we would set up a table early in the morning in front of the comedy club we held worship services in and hand out breakfast bars to young professionals on their way to the subway. Our goal was to connect with them but also to give visibility to our church. The pastor of the church had ordered a large banner made for this purpose, advertising who we were and our job was to hang the banner on the building behind our table. Our first morning, it did not hang as it was supposed to and we decided to just forego the banner. The pastor came by and questioned why the banner was sitting rolled up. Without it, people had to stop and be willing to talk to us to know why we were there. Let's be honest, there were not many New Yorkers willing to do this and so without an advertisement of who we were, we just looked like crazy people handing out breakfast bars on the street. Our leader asked why we had not tried other methods of hanging the banner, or why we had not visited the hardware store just down the street to find a new method. For heaven's sake, why had we not just at least gotten some duct tape?

The good leaders are the ones who go for the duct tape, or the plastic utensils. They are the ones who recognize what is important and do whatever it takes to follow through. They do not just give up and leave the banner rolled in the corner or smile and say "sorry." If you want to be a great leader, you must know what is most important. There are many smaller details that a good leader knows can be flexible. They are able to keep from sweating the small stuff. An ineffective leader will wear others out making the sure the non-essentials happen just the way they intend or invision them happening. A good leader knows what is important, what contributes to the vision and ultimate success for their organization or event. They will do whatever it takes to make sure the vision is not compromised. They keep the most important, most important and will do what ever it takes for success. While success may be held together with duct tape, it is still success.