Stuffing Envelopes & Other Lessons on Leading

While having breakfast the other morning with our friend, Ralph, in one of our favorite places, we were telling him how much we admire the manager. When he’s there, he’s very visible and always greets the customer. That particular morning, while serving plates of food, he was taking direction from the cashier who was letting him know where the customers were seated. We often talk with him as he walks around the restaurant and chats with customers – but he’s not just wandering around aimlessly. He’ll clear dishes that he sees on tables and tend to other necessary tasks while he takes the time to engage with customers. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. The staff tells us that things run so smoothly when he’s there. As one person put it, “He doesn’t stay hidden in his office like other managers – he’s out here with us.” He’s also out and about with us, the customers. One of his most admirable leadership traits is his willingness to work side by side with his team and do any task that they do. What a great example he sets!

Ralph remarked that this type of behavior is simply intuitive to some leaders. Something needs to be done and you just do it. He shared the story about a time when his staff was engaged in a process that included stuffing thousands of envelopes – a process that was later automated at his staff’s initiative. He joined them in the conference room and started stuffing envelopes right alongside them. They were amazed. Talk of it spread all over the organization and when he retired, the story was retold. What a great example he set!

At a doctor’s appointment earlier in the year I overhead the doctor talking with a staff member out in the hall. Apparently someone had spilled coffee on the carpet and the staff member was cleaning it up. I couldn’t see what was happening, but his words caught my attention. “Do you want me to do that?” he asked. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Not only did he set a great example, but he sent a powerful message to me, his patient. He had a great amount of respect for his staff.

Management text books are filled with examples and case studies of leadership theories. All three of these examples fit the Blake-Mouton theory that describes leadership behavior along two axes: concern for people and concern for task. All three of these are clearly team leaders ranking high on both axes. They lead by positive example, foster a team environment, and encourage individual and team development.

We don’t have to look very far to find positive examples of leadership behavior. Often these examples are right in front of us. They will vary by company size and industry. Not all examples are visible to customers or clients – but they are all visible to employees. Leaders who set a positive example for their teams go a long way in building trust and respect!

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