A Leadership Lesson From The Breakfast Buffet

A Leadership Lesson From The Breakfast Buffet

I knew it would be a long and hard day in the boardroom.

We started the business reviews and tough questioning at 8:00 AM, ending just before 9:00 PM – 13 HOURS! A marathon day of presenting to the CEO and executive team. Eggs, bacon, and fruit for breakfast. Dry sandwiches for lunch. Local pizzas were delivered for dinner. I'm in my fifth year of running my own business, and I honestly don't miss those days in corporate America.

This Monday Mojo Skills Newsletter is not a rant about the generally unhealthy volume of food we ate as a healthcare company; I'll save that for another day. Instead, this newsletter is about leadership and one of the strangest moments I've had in my leadership career just before we started that marathon day in the boardroom.
Here's what happened…
Around 7:15 in the morning, I jumped into the breakfast line to plate up the soft scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, berries, and cantaloupe. Just ahead of me was the company's CEO, heaping running eggs onto his plate. He had flown in from Europe and landed late the previous day, and it looked like he hadn't had the best night of sleep.
I hadn't seen the CEO in a month or two. Instinctually, I turned to him and said, "Hello." I followed with a customary and polite question, "How are you?"
His answer to my simple question floored me. He looked me in the eye and responded, "Does it really even matter?"
I was gobsmacked at his answer, and I remember saying without pause, "Yes, it actually does matter."
Suffice it to say the presentations didn't go well that day. I left that meeting shaking my head in bewilderment and ready for an Old Fashioned at the hotel. Many years later, I remember that odd morning in the breakfast buffet line and continue to appreciate how powerful the leader's voice is.
The CEO's awkward response to my simple "How are you?" was disconnecting and out of touch. For me, it was demotivating. I would think twice before asking him how he was when I saw him again.
Had he chosen a different path, say he answered with a simple "Fantastic. How are you?" I would have been drawn in. We would connect, even if it was for a moment.
As a leader, remember your words and body language have power.

Choose to deploy your words for good – to connect, motivate, inspire, and relate. More people will run through the wall for the leader they feel connected to.
My former occasionally overdramatic colleague once said, "The leader's voice is the voice of God." Though his comparison is over-the-top, the spirit of his words is correct. What the leader says and does matters and impacts everyone in the room. It sets the tone of culture.
Leadership is an honor. If you are a leader or aspire to be one, use your words, deeds, and actions to lift others up. You'll enjoy doing it, and more importantly, it will positively impact everyone around you.
Finally, when asked "How are you?" by one of your teammates, remember your response really does matter.
Oh yeah, one last thought on the corporate breakfast buffet. Why does nobody eat the green melon? Ever notice that? You will now! LOL!

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