When Being Last in the Lunch Line is a Good Thing

The leadership mistake you may not even know you are making

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I remember watching in mild disbelief as my new manager ran up to the front of the line and starting piling her plate high with lunch.  Picture a staff development day with staff of all levels, and she was the top level.   Her entire team was now forming a line behind her, watching this manager “lead” them to the buffet.

Except leaders aren’t supposed to lead the buffet line.

The sad truth is I have been to many events since that first buffet, and witnessed this scenario played out over and over again by leaders of many different organizations., quite often many of whom have been managing for years and should know better.

Talk about sending the wrong signal to your staff.

 I know what you are thinking, “Chill out Carrie, its just lunch”.  And you are right, if this is the only time these leaders are showing this behavior.  But I haven’t seen a situation yet where the lunch line wasn’t the symptom of a serious leadership flaw. 

Great leaders always put their employees’ needs first.  You are their leader because you care about them and you are more concerned that their needs are met before yours. If this is your attitude, your employees will know it because it will show up in everything you do.

So you know what I mean, here are a few helpful hints that subtly show your team that you will always have their back:

  • You arrive early and never saunter in late because you can. 
  • Never ask an employee to do something that you would never do yourself.  Nothing is ever “beneath you”.
  • Stop in at midnight to say hi to the night shift and see how they are doing.
  • Customer calls with a 4:30 emergency on Friday?  You roll up your sleeves and help out.
  • You emptied the coffee pot?  Start a new one.  Better yet, grab coffee at your favorite morning spot for everyone.   Make a point of knowing how your employees like their coffee.

Many managers think their title gives them the perks to avoid a lot of “front line” work, and they’re not wrong, which is why your employees will love you even more for doing it anyway.  Your employees see these little acts and the more you do them, you will prove ten fold that you have their backs and voila…you will have a dedicated and loyal team who in turn will always have your back…. See how this works?  You need to give to get.  You need to respect to get respect…you get the point.

We’ve all had the boss who used their power for their own advantage.  How much did you love him or her?  Were you dedicated, loyal, and busting your ass? Heck no.  No one does for that guy!

A friend of mine once told me that when her boss left for another opportunity elsewhere, people in her department actually cried.  She told me he was the best boss she’d ever had.  Be that kind of manager that everyone loves… who wouldn’t want to leave this legacy behind ? 

Oh, and that new manager who ran to the front of the buffet line?  She taught me what NOT to do when I become an organizational leader.  I now give copies of Simon Sinek’s book “Leaders Eat Last”  to the new managers on my team.   A subtle reminder to never be the first in line at the lunch buffet.

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