One thing I have observed recently, we are short on some things needed for a happy life. I’m not referring to toilet paper, disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer. I’m talking about leadership. Leadership is in short supply.
Here’s the story. Thanksgiving had little similarity to what usually happens in our family. Instead of a large family gathering and an amazing home-cooked meal together, my wife ordered two takeout Thanksgiving platters from a nearby local chain restaurant known for their country-style comfort foods. She ordered. I went to pick it up at the appointed time. An hour later, I arrived home. It wasn’t the five-minute ride each way. It wasn’t the quality of the food. In fact, it was delicious. But the fifty minutes standing in line watching what happens when no one leads was my main Thanksgiving memory. In fact, it consumed a disproportionate amount of our dinner conversation.
When no one leads, everyone is frustrated. Employees were stressed. Customers nearly came to physical blows. Yes. On Thanksgiving Day. Customers raising their voices at each other and at restaurant staff. And one guy even challenged another guy to a fight because he perceived the other one didn’t care about where the line started and ended. I heard mostly mumbles and grumbles. Some just finally walked out with threats being uttered just loud enough. You could cut the tension with a knife. It was all a result of a drought in leadership.
In a nutshell, no one had organized the distribution of the orders. First it was 15-20. Finally, it was 30-35 meals; bags with names on them, lined up on the over-crowded countertops, the checkout areas, on mobile carts. All of them coming hot out of an efficient kitchen. But chaos was everywhere among those whose job was to connect the right bag with the people standing in line to pick up their call-in and online orders. On top of it, there was only one line—those who had preordered and those placing orders. So, the finished meals waited while new meals for new orders were being prepared. When people demanded to see a manager, they were told, “they are busy right now.” Where? In the kitchen? In the office? No one was visibly solving the obvious distribution problem. As happens too often, someone had a leadership title but didn’t know how to lead.
As is often the case, there wasn’t a short supply of excuses. One employee said, “it’s my first week at work so I don’t know how to fix this chaos.” Another said, “we are going as fast as we can go.” One said, “it’s not my job, I’m only supposed to seat those who are here for dine-in.” Another said, “I will have to go ask for permission to change the distribution process” but kept right on doing what he was doing.
Finally, a young 20-something employee decided to lead. She did what leaders do. Problem-solve. Her first attempt at a solution was to go down the growing line to write down the name of every customer. Then she walked around looking at the expanding supply of orders and tried to match the names on the bags with her list. When that didn’t work, she started calling out each name on the bags to see if they matched the customers standing in line. Bingo. Progress started. Aggravated customers began to have hope for returning home with Thanksgiving dinner. The line started to shorten. I couldn’t read her name tag, but she deserves a shoutout. A true leader emerged from the crowd of excuse-makers.
When I headed home with our Thanksgiving meals, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Grateful that I’ve had 40 plus years of leadership opportunity and success. Grateful that I have matured enough in my own emotional health to withstand such chaos without being angry and anxious. Grateful to have the finances to purchase our meals. And, especially grateful that I had a beautiful wife of nearly 46 years waiting at home to share our delectable meal together. You see, I drove by a cemetery on my way home and noticed more than one adult, kneeling at a gravesite, spending time with their loved one on the holiday.