Leadership in Tough Times – the Rest of the Story

In early April I wrote about a popular and upscale waterfront restaurant, and the leadership qualities I have seen since we’ve lived around the corner.

They weathered Hurricanes Matthew and Irma and came out stronger. They quickly responded to the pandemic by establishing a takeout service.  But they didn’t just devise a takeout service – they intentionally created the same “upscale” experience as their restaurant.

They had online ordering, gave customers a roll of TP 😊, and packaged the food in eco-friendly containers with everything one would need to replicate their dining experience at home.

And they talked to their customers.  They kept us well informed about the safety measures they implemented and educated us.  My April 4 post reflected on two leadership qualities that I saw in their first communication that arrived in our take-out bag, hand-written.  Their authenticity and their vulnerability offered a powerful example of how simple gestures can be powerful messages.

They continue to provide insight into leadership, and I will share their leadership example of setting expectations.  But first, I want to tell a story about their reopening.

Back to Normal

In one of our take-out bags, there was a hand-written letter inviting those of us who frequented their take-out service to a new “club” as a thank you for our loyalty and business.  How cool!  They invited us to respond in email if we wanted to be included and, of course, we said “Yes.”

Soon after we received an email inviting us to their “soft” opening.  I had immediate visions of putting on makeup, dressing in something other than jammies, and sipping wine while watching the boats sail by.

Their email was very clear about the safety measures they’d put in place, and what we, as diners should expect.

I liked that. I gave me comfort that they were taking this seriously.  We were excited last night to head over to the “soft” opening.

We had a great dinner and watched the sailboats go by with a cool Chardonnay in our hands.

A New Normal

What follows about our experience has nothing to do with Caps; it is simply a reflection on my reaction to the experience, which was…different.  Caps was perfect.

This morning, I told my husband it seemed a little surreal, like an apocalyptic sci-fi movie.  The restaurant itself hadn’t changed – it was as beautiful as ever and all of the boats lined up for their take-out were stunning backdrops to the setting.

I see people in masks now everywhere, but it startled me to see everyone at the restaurant – services, hosts, owners – in masks.  It shouldn’t have, but it did.

They set up sanitizing stations throughout the restaurant so that we could see that it was happening. But the aroma was more of Lysol than garlic.

They did a good job of changing gloves before moving to new tables – just like they teach in healthcare.  But having spent a short time in healthcare, that was the image in my mind.

The table were indeed 6 feet apart. I didn’t think that would seem strange, but it did.

Other than that?  It was delightful and a welcome occasion to be somewhere other than the kitchen table.

Had they not been clear about what to expect, I would have been disappointed in the experience.  Instead, I was thankful for it.

Expectations

The email we received initially clouded the “temperature” thing – it inferred they would take temperatures but didn’t actually say it.

So with today being the official re-opening, yesterday they posted a picture on FaceBook of thermometers and large bottles of disinfectant.  Good.  I am better with clarity than inference.

The response to the post was overwhelmingly positive….except for one individual who felt that was invasive and a threat to her civil liberties.  I responded that she was free to not go.  The comment disappeared from FB.

But…she sent me a private note saying, “I won’t visit any place that does that to people.  We live in a free country and people are acting like this is a communist country.”  Wow.

But the good news is, she really doesn’t have to go.

Application to Leadership

After decades in corporate America watching leaders minimize problems and communicate in a “cloudy” way because they didn’t want to offend or scare, I have come to the conclusion that is a fool’s game.

A job candidate walks in the door for an interview and sizes up the lay of the land.  They accept the job offer based on expectations, be that their schedule, their boss or the resources available to them to do the job.

If the actual job doesn’t live up to the expectations, they see it. If it doesn’t meet their expectations over time, they leave.

Why would a leader cloud the challenges of the job and paint rosy expectations?  That’s a good question and one I’ve never really understood.

I’ve asked and been told that they didn’t want to scare the candidate.  Really?  I want someone who sees a good challenge and wants to overcome.

Setting clear expectations is the only way to know if the candidate you are considering is a fit for the job. If you lay it out – the good, the bad and the ugly – and they stay – you probably have someone who will thrive.  If not, they have the option to leave, and that saves you a whole bunch of stress.

Clear expectations are Important

Whether interviewing a job candidate, or communicating with a customer, let them know what to expect.  That way, you preserve the integrity of who you are, and those you are communicating with can join you or opt out.

Either way, it’s a win.

Thank you to the owners and staff at Caps.  You have demonstrated leadership in tough times at the highest level and we are so thankful to have been part of your re-opening.

We can’t have it both ways, or can we?

It was 2008. My colleagues and I were cleaning out our offices preparing to be unemployed because of our organization’s bankruptcy. Given that, we threw caution to the wind and talked about politics.

I was a different person then.  I had strong opinions formed over a lifetime by those around me who shared the same thoughts.

My colleague, in discussing the upcoming election, said that the global community distrusts and dislikes the United States.  I believe she was focused primarily on what was then 7 long years of war instigated by our country.

My first impression after that statement?  I didn’t really care that other countries didn’t trust us. We, after all, had a long and glorious history of hard-earned freedom and opportunity where anyone could, with a little hard work, succeed.

That was me in 2008.  It seems like a lifetime ago now.

I am writing this in 2020 in my home office, banned from doing anything but shopping at the grocery store and ordering take-out.  It’s going on four weeks now – a very long time to do nothing but ponder things.

Apparently questioning my strong opinions formed over a lifetime by those around me who shared the same thought has become my new normal.

I think it all started with a black President who, I believed, wasn’t acting as “my President,” because he was shining light on the fact that freedom and opportunity may not be as equally distributed as I’d thought. Honest white cops who held a prejudice against black people were simply informed by the fact that blacks were more often in trouble, right?  That’s why they were more cautious, and perhaps drew their firearm more frequently when approaching blacks. Perhaps.

This challenge to my paradigm wasn’t instantaneous.  It evolved over several years, as events occurred. But there were whiffs of prejudice you could begin to hear in dialogue.  People on either side of the fence were jumping in to defend their actions, a little more loudly with each event.

It hit home for me a little bit more when Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein were called out for the pigs they were.  Those nagging “just below the surface feelings” that women weren’t quite as far along in equality as I’d believed grew with every news release.

But they also made me revisit my own past as a woman in a man’s world.  I was successful without compromising my own values. Was I just lucky?

As all of this pondering mess was swirling around my head, we entered a new election where our options were a woman or a womanizer. I didn’t much care for either, honestly.  I was looking for credibility, experience, intelligence and a presence that would unite the country.

And here we are….more polarized than ever. I see MAGA and wonder what is really behind the desire to make America great again.  I see fighting against immigration laws and worry about where my tax dollars will go. My swirling head has now become a tornado, and it’s starting to hurt.

Anger seems to be the currency of the day.  Who can generate more anger by their vitriolic and hateful words? Who can make the other side look worse?

The words to a song from Les Miserables got my attention the other day. “With so much anger in the land, how long before the judgment day, before we cut the fat ones down to size.” (Watch the video at the link. Sound familiar?)

As I listened to those words, I realized that I am angry. I saw a Facebook meme that helped me formulate why I am angry.

I think I’m angry because everyone thinks they’re right. But if everyone is right, and at the same time, everyone is different, where is the hope?

We can’t have it both ways. Or can we?

Maybe I’m just naïve but could the answer possibly be that we, as humankind, acknowledge that there are other wants, needs and opinions that are just as valid as ours?  Could it be that if we were to simply make the decision to look beyond ourselves and find the good in others, we might actually become better ourselves?

Is the only way to have it both ways, to let go of our own personal “ways” just a bit so that we can allow others to have theirs?

Perhaps we are afraid that if we let go just a little bit, “they” will win.  That’s a valid point and one I worry about.

So we just yell louder and hope to convince others.  How’s that working for us now?

I wish I had an easy answer.  All I have are questions, fears and anger.

Ah, how about this. We stop putting polarizing political memes on social media.  Instead, we encourage ourselves, our friends and our relatives to read various sources of news, including those they don’t agree with.

And then start listening.

We can even start a new hashtag – #standwithallofus.  Because it really is about all of us and the only way any of us can win is if we all win. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we are all in this together.

 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Power of Expectations

Last week I shared a story about leadership in tough times. A local restaurant owner got my attention with a handwritten letter he put in our takeout meal bag. The sincerity of his letter prompted me to write about two leadership behaviors that I believe are crucial – authenticity and vulnerability.

One of the comments left on the blog post made me realize that there is another really important lesson in this business owner’s leadership style – the power of expectations.

The comment read:

This comment was left by Han Tak, the individual who designed the online ordering system between the time that restaurants were closed on March 17 and March 28 when the online ordering launched.  Talk about leap of faith. He didn’t know how to do something, and Bernard trusted that he’d figure it out.

I love a good inspirational story, and I love it even more when it shows how innovative and persistent people can be when trusted to carry out a vision.  I suspect that Bernard had a vision that the “takeout ordering thing” could be a lot easier with online ordering.  So he asked someone with whom he already had a trusted relationship.

I spoke with Bernard about how he came to ask Han to build an online ordering site.  He said, “…in our first interview he told me about his background with Google, which gave him instant credibility. Not knowing much (or liking it) about social media, I felt I needed a dynamic person to handle that aspect of our business. He convinced me that when you do social media, you have to do it right. High quality video and photography are essential and after seeing one video from him, I was sold. We developed a really good relationship and seem to inspire one another.

Wow.  Now I know where all those awesome Facebook posts after the hurricanes when Caps was rebuilding came from.  I hadn’t thought about it until now, but seeing a business owner giving a virtual tour of all the new amenities after the hurricanes made me feel connected to the restaurant in ways I had never felt connected to a restaurant. Wise counsel, Han!

But let’s get back to leadership.  I titled this “The power of expectations” for a reason.  I think that people rise to the expectation.  When an expectation is low there isn’t too much to strive for.  But when someone expects the extraordinary, my experience is that people want very much to deliver.

After way too many years in corporate America where organizations focused only on technical skills and were often disappointed that the outcome was not what was expected, I came to believe that technical skills are only half the battle. Will and persistence take any execution a whole lot farther.

Oh, I can hear the contrarians out there saying, “Having experience at Google does not a technology expert make.” Quite true.  But it has been my experience that, once you know the basics of technology, it is creativity and innovation that propel the deliverable.

Bernard took a risk on Han, and Han was candid with Bernard about his abilities. I’m guessing that the “good relationship” they developed helped both say, “let’s figure it out.”

A good lesson here, perhaps.

It’s important to be clear about the outcome and clear on what it takes to succeed.  If your outcome requires a knowledge of rocket science, hire for technical qualifications.  But if you can, give someone a chance to show what they can learn and do.

March 2020 was an unprecedented time.  Bernard had a goal (which he put on Facebook) – to keep his full-time staff employed.  Faced with closing or trying a new business model, he chose to enter uncharted territory, trusting his own instincts and those with whom he had developed relationships to make it work.

He gave an opportunity to Han to learn something new and do something extraordinary.  The cool thing is that everyone else at the restaurant watched the process and joined in cheering Han on.  I know because when we picked up our Easter takeout brunch today, they told me so.  And it is obvious that everyone is in the spirit of making Caps the very best takeout restaurant in north Florida.  They were already among the best waterfront restaurants in north Florida, and now we all know why.

When I shared this draft with my husband, he reminded me of a pretty relevant and cool quote:

You can order this poster of the Calvin Coolidge quote on Etsy.