Are You Filling the Candy Bowl?

by Jennifer Miller on September 11, 2009

in Leadership

We were at an outdoor barbeque earlier this summer, extolling the virtues of the hostess’ fantastic array of food.  Talk turned to food at the office and how there’s always some sort of tasty treat being laid out for munching. Pete piped up—“Yeah, I know what you mean—I can hardly resist the M&M bowl. I suppose I should fill it, since I do like my M&M’s.”  Pete’s wife Sally turned to him and said “Is it a community bowl?”  Pete sheepishly added, “Yeah, we’re supposed to take turns and I just haven’t gotten around to it.”

Now, the story up to this point is fairly innocuous.  Big deal, Pete hasn’t held up his share of the office Munch Fest.  Give him a break, he’s busy.  It’s not like he started the M&M Community Bowl thing. Except that Pete’s the leader in the office. 

Does that change your perception of the story in any way?

One of the toughest things about leadership is how easy it is to forget about the “little” things in the office.  Maybe nobody’s noticing how many M&M’s Pete’s eating.  But maybe they are. There are the many small, seemingly inconsequential ways that leaders slowly, unknowingly give off signals that say, “I’m too busy” or “I’m above it all.”

This real-life scenario reminds me of a story in the book Freakonomics in which it turned out that the higher one’s rank in the office, the more likely you were to “forget” to pay for the bagel you took from the “honor” system bagel table. (See New York Times Magazine article for details.)

Now, I know Pete and he’s an honest, hard-working guy and an all-around great leader.  He routinely gets high marks from his employees for his solid supervisory and leadership skills. In this case, he simply  forgot that many times, appearances of “pitching in” are very important to employees. 

I talked with Pete’s wife Sally a few days later.  She reported that Pete got enough ribbing at the barbeque that he went right out and bought an industrial-sized bag of M&M’s for the office.  Who says peer pressure is a bad thing?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Vicki Voisin September 11, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Karen…This is a valuable lesson for leaders who must never forget that it’s the little things they do for their team that really matter. Even though Pete gets high marks from his employees for his supervisory and leadership skills, it’s the simple acts of kindness (such as filling the candy bowl) that will establish the unending loyalty of his employees. Vicki

Jane September 12, 2009 at 5:45 am

I always find it interesting to see leaders gravitate toward certain actions and varying degrees of ‘care’. True leaders care. Otherwise they would have no aspirations to lead. Point A of leadership is caring about the outcome. The demonstration of caring has many faces, even a conscience that warns they have not played fairly with the M&M bowl. There is a big difference between Leaders and Commanders. People want to follow Leaders and respect them. People follow Commanders too, but sometimes (although not always) for different reasons.

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