How Team Leaders Can Avoid a Carrot Cake Incident

My wife went to get a piece of carrot cake for my brother on Fathers’ Day.

We had visited Aspens, the steak house she went to, a number of times over the last few years. Their carrot cake was excellent.

She arrived just after four o’clock. The doors were open.

When she walked in, she was greeted by a dark-haired teenager. “May I help you?”

“Yes, I’d like to buy one piece of carrot cake to go, please. My brother-in-law loves it, and yours is delicious.”

The waitress, or hostess, hesitated a moment. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we are closed from 4 until 5. If you want it, you’ll have to come back then.”

My wife’s jaw must have dropped in surprise…


She wasn’t asking the kitchen to cook a steak, right? It was a piece of cake.


“Really.” The girl responded (and, according to my wife, she couldn’t have cared less).

“Well, no thanks, then.”

By the time she arrived home, with a carrot cake she had purchased at Publix, she delivered the story to me and was determined that we would not be eating at Aspens at any time in the future.

“She just didn’t care.” My wife kept saying to me, over and over.

And I thought to myself… how common is this same type of behavior in other workplaces?

In my newest book, The 10 Commandments of Winning Teammates, one of the ten lessons the main character experiences is that winning teammates always do more than is expected, with enthusiasm – and they claim personal responsibility for results.

The restaurant the young woman worked at was in business to sell food to customers.

The doors were open, and the request was not ridiculous.

But the young hostess (or waitress) did not do more than her manager would have expected – and she certainly did not claim responsibility for results.

She was an hourly worker with the awareness and thoughtfulness of a disengaged employee.

Rather than recognizing that by treating a good customer well you might gain customers through positive word of mouth about the quality of your food and helpfulness of the staff…

Rather than recognizing that by treating a good customer poorly you might lose their loyalty and suffer the damage of negative word of mouth about the apathy of the staff…

Rather than recognizing that every interaction a customer experiences will build or diminish your brand and revenues…

The employee didn’t care.

And that is probably not because she was a bad person.

It was probably because she had a bad manager.

Because a good manager would be sure that every person in their organization knew that they were the face of the organization to the world.

A good team leader would be sure that every person knew that their job was to go over and above expected conventions to give guests a tremendous experience that they could brag about to their friends.

A good team leader would be sure that every person knew the reason they were in business – and that company profits (a symptom of positive guest experiences) were the results that ALL teammates should take responsibility for.

One thing I learned as a basketball coach, that I consistently see illustrated in business, is that attitude reflects leadership.

If the leader values guest experiences and places a premium on “team goals,” so will others throughout the organization.

But if the leader is short-sighted and hasn’t taken the time to connect his people to a compelling common goal – or to each other to build collaborative staff relationships – then ultimately that will trickle down throughout the ranks as well.

If you are a leader, what are you doing to set and example and to ensure that your people do more than is expected, with enthusiasm – and claim personal responsibility for results.

If you do a great job as a leader, your customers will see it in the behavior of your people – and they will be transformed from disengaged employees into great teammates. As an Atlanta team building facilitator, I have helped thousands of team members recognize the impact that their behaviors have on organizational success…

But if you do a poor job as a leader, your customers will see that also - and they will eventually, after a bad experience, share that story with others and stop returning.

My wife still doesn’t plan on going back to Aspens.

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