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.

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