What The Kid Did With His Chance

A leader's best moments are undoubtedly when their people take the mantle of leadership themselves and successfully apply it.

Like parents and their children, the sense of pride that exudes from seeing someone develop and flourish is probably what attracts most of us to consider leading and influencing others.

One of the most satisfying moments for me was a number of years when a 19-year old boy stepped up and made a tremendous impact. I oversaw operations for an entertainment/theme park, and one of my foodservice supervisors had to take medical leave for the bulk of the peak summer season.

She oversaw three small but high volume units in the park, and the timing of this news was crucial. She had a very young staff that worked for her, with a few shift leaders, and her absence meant an increased workload for myself.

Normally this would have been a difficult challenge and cause for worry, but hidden in her staff was a gem of a leader that I knew we could call on to hold the fort. If only I could foresee how much of a leader he would turn out to be.

Bonfilio was his name, a quiet kid who was reliable and steady. He always seemed to understand how to make his staff, which was mostly his peer group, motivated to work and overcome obstacles. He was a shift leader who ran a good operation, so we set the stage for him to take the reins. We promoted him to a supervisor role on a temporary basis which allowed him the scope of authority he needed to assume the role left open for a few months.

Bonfilio immediately started to have the operations run smoother and more expedient within a couple of weeks. He made sure that the other shift leaders knew how to train new hires, use their daily task lists, and take care of the customer. Within a month, sales and profits for those locations exceeded prior years.

As he became more efficient, I started to give him duties for scheduling, ordering, and cleaning. He effectively worked those into his routine and delegated some of the tasks to others who he thought could learn and help him out.

Impressed, I started to give him more responsibility. I would give him weekly goals on cleanliness, service times, training, and other operational challenges. We would check weekly, and would ask him "So how are you coming on A, B, and C?" He would respond, "A, B and C are done, here are the results. And, oh, I also did an D, E, and F for you as well, here's what became of those." I was floored by Bonfilio's initiative, and his ability to take on more while ensuring the operations ran efficiently.

Bonfilio, like many others, needed 2 things in order to exercise his leadership influence: 1) A chance to step up, and 2) The motivation to step up when the chance is presented.

His story gives us solid lessons in how to foster chances and groom people to be ready for those opportunities:

  • Scan The Horizon That Is Your People - Leaders need to take the time to know their players and where they can fill in during various situations. Coaches know how their players react in a given situation, parents know their children's strengths and weaknesses. Get to know your people, and their talents, intimately.
  • Identify Traits, Not Personalities - Many people have been discounted from leadership roles for reasons based solely on their personality. What may be hardness might be high standards, likewise shyness could be keen observation skills. Be discerning in your assessment of your people.
  • Build Skills & Develop Their Character - Without skills, the job doesn't get done. Without character, it doesn't get done right or consistent over the long haul. Their future leadership trajectory will in part be determined by the path you set them on on these two fronts.
  • Give Them A Change To Led For Real - Start with a can't fail situation, then grow from there. Stretch them, push them, but get them out there so they can show their talents. Waiting for the "right moment" may never come, so create it for them.

It was Bonfilio's vision, talents, and initiative that made an incredible impact that summer. We just merely set the stage; but he had to show up and perform each time the curtain rose up.

That summer the shops that Bonfilio operated set records on sales and margins, as well as customer satisfaction and employee engagement. When his supervisor returned from her leave in the fall, Bonfilio was ready for the next challenge.

He knew of an opening as a shift leader in our largest restaurant, and wanted to take on the challenge of learning a new concept, new skills, and work for the person who later became our executive chef for the park. While a step down from what he just accomplished, he saw even more opportunity to learn and grow as a leader.

Do you know who the Bonfilios of your organization are? Have you given them an opportunity to showcase their talents? They are out there, waiting to make your business better and become dynamic leaders in their own right.

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