Leadership · Curriculum · Lifelong Learning

I can’t believe that this actually happened. It was just lunch.

After all my reading, researching, and reflecting on best practices, here was daring leadership right in front of my face. After renting space in the halls of theory, here comes a real life practitioner owning the experience. After much thought, here’s application and transfer.

I love going out to eat. I go for the people, stay for the ambiance, food, and drink. There’s nothing better than a great cup of coffee and a mutual investment in deep dialogue.

A few weeks ago, I got to meet six colleagues for lunch. The group was just big enough and just lost in conversation enough that our server wouldn’t be able to memorize our orders, let alone exact every detail. Even at a burgers-and-fries kind of place, menu options seem to be a few bites ahead of society’s latest dietary needs and personal preferences. You can request how well to cook meat, specify light ice for lukewarm water, demand nearly anything on-the-side, and even request when different portions arrive at your table–to name a few.

It was such a rare experience for me to go out to eat–and for lunch–that I just wanted to take it all in. And so, there I sat, absorbing the moments and listening to colleagues share a few laughs. Also, in the back of my mind, I knew that our time was limited because seven people had to order, eat, and pay in less than 40 minutes–when we’d need to leave for our next meeting.

To make matters more interesting, our group trickled in, arriving in three different segments. Some people (like me) might take more time to examine the menu in full before landing the best choices sure to hit the spot. A few diets might require specialized orders, a few friends might change their minds, and then there’s always the potential for the unforeseen variables, the unplanned circumstances, and the overall unexpected things–things educators grow accustomed to expect.

All of this had me with filled with skeptical optimism and doubtful wonder: “How might any server ever flip this table in 40 minutes?” Clearly, there would be no room for any margin of error. If just one order was wrong, if just one plate was dropped on the floor, or if The Unexpected would pay us a visit at the most inopportune time, then it’s a bust. With no time allotted to repair or redo, our success criteria was the straightest line between arrival and dismissal.

Everything had to be right for success.

The whole group was here. The drink orders of water with or without lemon, lemonade in full or half-and-half, and soft drinks with all ice quantities were in. Finally, it was time to order. And the moment of truth was now upon us…

Again, I sat there observing and wondering how this would all play out.

My colleagues and I navigated several dietary choices, culinary cravings, personal preferences, and every menu option that might put our hearts, minds, and stomachs at ease. One-by-one, we expressed our unique requests. The orders were in. What’s next? Let’s GO!

Working on my situational awareness as educators do, I watched our server circulate the table, position herself right next to each of us one-at-a-time, and look us in the eye. I watched her write stuff down. I watched her careful attention to detail.

At first I thought, “Oh no. What if this is her first day? I mean, what if she didn’t write down our orders exactly like we said? What if she missed something? What if something goes wrong? Is this taking 65 seconds longer than it should? How might we expedite the process?” Deep down, I could feel my anxiety setting in.

The last order was in. Our server had finished her lap around the table. Before leaving, she seemed to take a short moment (like ten seconds) for herself. It was as if she was rereading her list. She was taking a deep breath, perhaps. Maybe she was collecting herself after a few intense interactions?

And then, our server did the unthinkable…

With her list in one hand, she raised her head and lifted her other hand. She looked at the entire table and said:

“Okay, let me see if I got this right. Here are the orders…”

She read aloud each order. I think there was only one correction to make, like mayo on the side or something like that. She asked if there was anything else to bring, such as condiments, etc. And then she walked away, only to circle back to bring the right orders the first time, to refill drinks, to bring extra condiments, and to pay, of course. She even managed to take–and keep straight–all the credit cards, and without the fancy folder things because we were in a hurry. Needless to say, I made sure to thank our server–by name. And we made it to our next meeting with substantial time to spare.


I learned a lot from our server that day:

  • Before proceeding to the next steps in a complex process, she paused, parrot-phrased, and posed questions for clarity.
  • By taking a moment to reread the orders before placing them, she balanced caring about customers with the appropriate pace and process to ensure success. She could have gone twice as fast and made a few mistakes, only to let us leave with a sour taste in our mouths.
  • She cared more about getting it right than being right–the first time. When we were done ordering, she could have raced away from the table while knowing that she wasn’t completely sure about the order, or, better yet, that we as the customers truly felt heard, valued, and taken care of as they say.
  • Rushing to be right might have preserved her pride and impressed her customers, co-workers, and bosses in the moment, yet pausing to get it right the first time should earn her a huge raise in terms of repeat customers over time–if not as a result of immediate, outright recognition and gratuity.
  • She swallowed her potential pride so that we could swallow the right things and enjoy the ride.
  • Through character, she exemplified competencetwo staple ingredients of trust.
  • Process > Product. Yet, excellent products might be the results of rigorous, well-thought processes.
  • Being a Learner > Being a Knower

Sure, it might have been just another working lunch in a busy week. I might be hyping things that aren’t there. And there just might be bigger fish to fry, burgers to cook, or first-world pressing issues to analyze than this one shining moment at lunch a few weeks ago.

But I’ll never forget it.

Daring Leadership matters.

As a lifelong learner, getting it right means so much more to me than being right.

And I only hope that my gratuity explicitly expressed these sentiments. Thank you!

Blogger’s Note: This is Part I in: “Getting It Right,” a series based on one line from Brene Brown‘s Book: Dare to Lead. In The Armory on pages 75-76, Brown shifts Armored Leadership example 05: “Being a knower and being right” to the Daring Leadership response: “Being a learner and getting it right.” This one line has greatly impacted my work, life, and perspective in the last few years. End Blogger’s Note.

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