Leading by Teaching

What does a great pastrami on rye have to do with leadership? Read below.

I’d like to share with you a story about my deli guy.  Why a story about a “deli guy” in an HR/leadership blog? Because, in addition to making great sandwiches (“I’ll take a ‘Gerty’— corned beef and pastrami on rye with Russian dressing and a side of coleslaw— thanks!”), he’s also one of the most natural teachers that I’ve ever observed, and therein lies the story.

Dad’s Deli (and Training Academy)

Doug, a longtime restauranteur and caterer, co-manages Dad’s Deli with his wife, Debbie.  Located in a nondescript building in a suburban setting, Dad’s has developed a loyal following.  Beyond the quality of the sandwiches, this is due in no small part to the friendly, everyone-knows-your-name atmosphere (think “Cheers” in a deli) that starts with Doug’s greeting as you enter the door.  A natural networker, Doug goes out of his way— even in the busiest rush periods—to make a connection with everyone who walks in.  He’ll remember your name, where you went to school, that you have a child in youth lacrosse or on the traveling soccer team, etc., and odds are he has some connection he’d be happy to introduce you to who could help you in something you’re doing.

There’s one other thing Doug is a natural at, and that is teaching. In fact, it’s how he runs his business.  Picture a busy Saturday morning: customers coming in eager for ham-and-egg-on-a-kaiser sandwiches, OJ, and coffee, while at the same time, the crew is gearing up to get trays of sandwiches, salads, and hot entrees loaded into delivery trucks.  Doug presides from in front of the grill, directing traffic, keeping a keen eye on quality control—and always instructing.

Whether it is showing a young assistant how to arrange a tray of sandwiches or cook eggs for six different orders at the same time, with every instruction, he’s reinforcing “here’s how to do it” with calm encouragement.  That’s not to say that his guidance isn’t occasionally met with a rolling of the eyes or an “I know, Doug, I know” from his more experienced staff.  The intent, though, of guidance and support is always felt (even in the moments of exasperation).

There’s one other thing that Doug-the-leader does, and that is, he seeks out growth opportunities for his crew.  Example: Opening on Sunday may or may not be that profitable—but it provides his eager young clerk the chance to step up and “run his own shop” for the day, so he does it.  For this, he is repaid with the loyalty of his team, and the satisfaction of knowing that he is making a difference in the lives and careers of those he comes in contact with.

Leadership Lesson

A recent Met Life study of benefits and workplace issues found loyalty to company being steadily replaced by loyalty to individuals.  If one’s manager is the embodiment of the company for most employees, what would it do to employee loyalty and engagement if all of our frontline supervisors managed like Doug manages—from a teaching perspective?

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One response to “Leading by Teaching

  1. Doug sounds like a leader we should all take notes from – thanks for sharing his account – I’ll definitely be taking some pointers away with me.

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