3 Leadership Lessons from the Dinner Table
As leaders, we continually search for ways to improve, refine and hone our skills, abilities and demeanor. In this quest, we are consistently met with one immovable hurdle that limits our achievements…time. No matter how we adjust our schedules, there are consistently 24 hours in a day. We try to cheat Mother Nature and gain more usable time by sleeping less. This only works as a surge technique and not sustainable as less sleep over time loosens our focus and reminds us to remain mentally sharp, we must take proper care of our brain housing and sustainment system, also known as our bodies. For me, this means two things: Exercise and Eating. The first part is easy. Exercise is my time. It is time to clear my mind and lose myself in thought while achieving that Runner’s High to which many of us are so addicted. The second part is what I would like you to think about today. Are you eating properly? Are you being efficiently effective with this time, or are you wasting it merely obtaining sustenance for your body?
This past week, I was fortunate to spend a week at a location where I will soon assume a senior leadership role. It is an amazing place with over 7,000 teammates working together to achieve success. Daily, they deliberately and determinedly work toward success in the mission of the organization, the goals of their families and to continue their personal growth. I want to know each of their stories. The hard part? Acknowledging this is an unrealistic goal. Not only is there not enough time to accomplish this, there exists another fact which many senior leaders are reluctant to acknowledge…insulation. A true leader can not honestly believe the building is always that clean and the best members of the team always happen to be waiting just outside the front door when you drive up. While it is a deliberate and honorable effort by junior leaders to show off their people and organizations, it unintentionally insulates a leader from a true look at the organization. Similarly, those that work for you are routinely reluctant to be open and honest in their conversation with their true assessment of the team and their actual needs. So, the question remains… how do you prevent unintentional insulation from a true snapshot of the organization?
While it is a deliberate and honorable effort by junior leaders to show off their people and organizations, it unintentionally insulates a leader from a true look at the organization.
By now, you are wondering how the two lines of thought above tie together? Where do people do their most honest discussion, let their guard down a bit and just talk? At the meal table. Whether breakfast, lunch or dinner, this is the time most of us focus on relaxing and enjoying a satisfying meal. So, the obvious question that follows is how do you utilize this opportunity? Do you sit at your desk in isolation and further insulate yourself? Do you dine with your closest friend who shares a very similar background to yours? Or do you make time of the valuable seconds shared at a meal? I offer there are three invaluable ways to utilize this newfound growth opportunity: Dinner Down, Dinner Up and Nuclear Dinner.
1. Dinner Down
Confident and efficiently effective leaders deliberately dine with those they lead. This is an opportunity to join those whom you are responsible to guide and develop in their careers.
Mentor them, learn their stories and gain honest feedback in this often-misallocated time each day. This is a simple step to breaking through that insulation you naturally experience in being a senior leader.
2. Dinner Up
At every level of leadership, we must continue to strive for improvement. We must find time in our busy schedules to be mentored ourselves. This becomes tougher at the higher levels of command because of the many demands on our time and the expanded responsibility to develop those under our care. Seek out those you admire and respect to gain mealtime mentorship in order to better your self. Light conversation over a burger or wrap will turn out to be some of the most beneficial advice and experience stories you will ever receive.
3. Nuclear Dinner
Make time for family. With four children in various levels of school, sports, volunteer opportunities and the many other pulls on each of your time, my family still strives for family dinner around the table 5 nights a week. This is my most precious time. It is when we discuss each persons’ day, our good and bad, our lessons, successes and shortcomings. It is where we instill manners and ideals, dedication and devotion. Without this third type of dinner, the other two will fall short. Now, all families are different. Whether size, composition or legality, you know who your nuclear family consists of…spouse, partner, children, friends…a strong leader needs a solid foundation on which to grow. And in these same meals you are building your replacement, the next generation to carry on your name.
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As obvious as these three techniques seem, their importance became glaringly obvious to me over the past week. Staying in a hotel over 6,000 miles from my family, I missed our nightly Nuclear Dinner. Eating in the Base Restaurant, I found Airmen open for true conversation. And last night I joined my close friends ExchangeGain Co-Founder Shawn Murphy and YouTern Founder and A World Gone Social Co-Author Mark Babbitt for a wonderful dinner at Hook and Ladder where we shared our passion for writing, discussed leadership, social media and life in general. These seemingly simple and unrelated events across the past week served as my inspiration to discuss the criticality of mealtime mentorship with you. In closing, my challenge to you is this…be deliberate in how you choose to spend your 86,400 seconds each day. Always make the most of each day for your followers, your family and yourself.
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