I am a messy popcorn eater. I believe in picking up a fistful of popcorn and seeing exactly how much I can get into my mouth in one bite. This habit unfortunately does have the unintended consequence of many kernels of popcorn ending up on the floor.
Over the last weekend, I indulged my popcorn habit at a megaplex that just opened near me. As I was enjoying my bag of popcorn while waiting to be seated, a Manager walked briskly down the hallway. As he neared me, he noticed the developing accumulation of kernels in front of me. Without breaking stride, he bent down, picked up the offending kernels, and deposited them in the trash can. His unspoken message to me was clear: this theater was going to remain as pristine as possible as long as he could see to it. The Manager had set the standard, and I found myself picking up even the smallest kernel that dropped on the floor, not wanting to be shamed again if he came down the hallway.
As I continued to wait in line, I noticed a couple of other examples of leadership in action.
- Leaders seize teachable moments. After a crew of five high school boys emerged from the theater they just cleaned, another Manager intercepted them in the hallway. The dialogue between them went something like this:
Manager: “Where are you heading next?”
Crew: “Theater 5.”
Manager: “What movie is playing in theater 5?”
Crew: “Toy Story 3 3-D.”
The Manager then took a moment to tell the crew why he was going to split them up into two groups, with one continuing on to clean the theater and the other to assist him with an additional housekeeping task.
He could have simply ordered the boys to their next task, but he made the additional effort to reinforce their job was not just about cleaning. It was about remembering where they worked so they could field customer questions without hesitation.
- Leaders are intensely focused on their customers. A mother and her young daughter walked up to a Manager and asked for directions to the restroom. The Manager looked at the mother, noticed the daughter standing next to her and replied, “There is a family restroom down the hallway on the right. If you would like to use the ladies room, turn left by Theater 2 and it will be on your left.”
Rather than provide a rote answer, the Manager considered what his customer might need and provided her with the best options available. It was a small gesture, but I am willing to bet the Mother appreciated the consideration contained within his response.
One of the themes I will be discussing at the Compass Forum on June 29th (click here for more information) is how leadership functions as a cultural signal tower. Leadership transmits the behavioral norms and authorizes rituals within the group. While there are additional dimensions that comprise culture within an organization, leadership establishes the boundaries.
What is the business impact of all this? I have 3 theaters within a 10 mile drive where I can get my popcorn and movie fix. I now know which one will be receiving my entertainment dollars on a regular basis.