Leadership Lessons From The Deli Counter

Where do you get your lunch?

Mo, the proprietor of the sublime Sozo Sushi in Ft. Lauderdale, asks me as I pay for dinner.

We run down the street to Doris’ Market, I answer. They have a $5.00 lunch special. Sandwich, chips, and a soda.

Doris’ is your classic old Italian market, less than a mile from my firm’s office, right on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, Florida.

Yes, there really is a Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.

Lunch rush at Doris’ Market means you pull a number and wait your turn. Behind the counter, Gilda and Frank and Doreen and Freddie and a whole slew of others hustle to sell deli meats and make the lunch orders while a crowd eagerly waits.

As I watch the numbers tick down toward mine, I think to myself I hope I get Gilda, I hope I get Frank.

Everyone behind the counter makes a fine sandwich.

But I like Gilda. I like Frank.

Truth is, I don’t know Gilda or Frank.

What I like is Gilda and Frank’s energy.

I am not talking about good customer service here. I am talking energy.

The I-am-happy-to-be-alive-and-here-right-now energy. The I-am-delighted-to-engage-with-you energy. The dammit-let-me-enjoy-this-moment energy.

Ron, Senior VP at a Fortune 500 company, and I have a chat about energy. Like many seasoned executives that I coach, Ron longs to be a more inspirational leader.

There are people that give energy and there are people that take energy, Ron explains. I want to be the leader who gives energy.

And Ron shares a boss-who-inspired-me story.

I used to work for a guy named Larry. When Larry went on a business trip or took a vacation, we missed him. We were happy when Larry came back. I want to be the guy they miss. I want to be the guy they are happy to see back.

That’s a fine personal benchmark. I don’t know Larry, but I am pretty darn sure that this benchmark has little to do with Larry’s skill or competence. This benchmark is about Larry’s personal energy.

Are you the Gilda or Frank or Larry they miss?

Consider these simple guidelines for fueling your miss-me personal energy:

1. I-Like-People-Energy Decide to like people. I mean, REALLY like them. Don’t fake the workplace-relationship-part. Don’t merely tolerate others because you know you cannot do your job without them.

Like them on a bad day. Like them when they annoy the heck out of you. Like them when you don’t agree with a thing they’re saying. Just decide that you will. Your decision is powerful mental energy unleashed.

If you deep-down don’t like other people, or people that are other-than-you, get the heck out of the leadership business.

Because when you fake it, we feel it.

2. I-Like-Myself-Energy Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It isn’t. We cover up not liking ourselves in so many devious ways. The smarter we are, the more devious the ways.

You have worked for the shame-driven boss who starts every conversation with a criticism. You have collaborated with the perfectionist colleague who line-edits every document you submit. You have worked with the sardonic mind-f*cker who takes every conversation to the dark side.

Just a few of the ways in which folks unload I-don’t-like-myself-energy onto others.

Fully, deeply liking ourselves is a life-long journey. Embark on the journey.

Because when you fake it, we feel it.

3. I-Am-Fully-Alive-Energy Here’s a question I ask many of my audiences: How do we know that someone has good energy?

With a Senior Executive group, this question tends to elicit a long silence. In a recent session with a sharp MBA class, a young lady raised her hand at once.

They’re alive! Matilda exclaimed.

Bingo. That is my favorite answer. Mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually alive.

And not “alive” because we’re fortunate to meet you on a good day. No, “alive” because you have developed habits that fuel your Fully-Alive-Energy. Classic habits such as weekly exercise, food that energizes, positive self-talk, daily emotional clearing, meditation or the spiritual practice of your choice. You decide. And you’re committed to your energy habits.

Because this I know for sure. When you fake being alive, we feel it.

Go and set your own Deli benchmark.

Be energy-conscious. Do a personal energy check. Do so every day. Choose to be the one who energizes others.

It’s how we become the one they miss.