This is the third post in a week-long series focusing on Danny Meyer’s book, Setting the Table. For information on ordering Meyer’s book from Amazon, see my July 28 post.
|Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
|I took the one less traveled by,
|And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”
Meyer by now should be clearly recognized as more than a foodie with a dream of opening a restaurant with nary a business skill. He is a visionary in the food, management and common sense arenas, and his book has satisfied much more than my gustatory needs.
But tonight, as this series enters the home stretch and I prepare to seek my next writing project, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight three points that gain momentum, each building on the previous point’s orbit, avalanching toward success.
CONSTANT, GENTLE PRESSURE
First is Meyer’s “constant, gentle pressure” maxim. As a manager of people with vastly different styles and strengths, I frequently find the need to apply correcting force to redirect, slow or undo challenges created by individuals pursuing their own vision instead of the one we built together (goals). Or more often, they misinterpret the path of greatest promise in favor of the familiar. Its easy to let “being perfect” get in the way of “being great.”
Meyer’s clarifying point really resonated with me. It had not occurred to me that correcting the same issues repeatedly might just be normal. I saw it as a flaw in my managerial DNA, and often wondered how to correct it. I find it much easier to sleep at night knowing that my “daytime deja vu” is a byproduct of different people and personalities mashing their own interests together.
One personal weakness I discovered was my willingness to “negotiate” . . . OK, soften, my vision. My reasons were noble, but also a mixed message for staff who were committed. I may have been too accommodating of voices that slowed progress by insisting that doing things the old way kept us from alienating the minority who valued those methods. I was trying to manage concerns that too much change, too quickly, would destroy what commitment to a sharply different set of priorities and principles I had built within the team
Where we once relied on staff to try to meet engagement goals, I wanted to focus on voluntary self-governance by, and constant feedback from, our constituents. Where we once allowed monotonous, cookie cutter programming, I wanted to spice things up with a constantly-changing set of satellite events around the center of our universe — traditional alumni programs. Where we previously found reasons to aim low and succeed at achieving that level of performance, I chose to give each staff member the opportunity to maximize his or her strengths.
But on one important count, I sacrificed the force with which I demanded constant commitment to my vision because those other changes compelled me to allow staff to weigh heavily in how quickly they transitioned to the new lexicon, the new pace of play – to use golf parlance, and to a new leader.
But after spending three years of applying gentle pressure, Meyer’s insistence that all three components are essential, I am committed to applying that gentle pressure more consistently. I am more excited about this personal development goal than you can imagine.
HE WHO HAS THE VISION TAKES THE LEAD
The second point in this cascading roll toward growth is Meyer’s mentor — and my favorite character in the book — Pat Cetta. He very visually and succinctly helped Meyer understand a critical aspect of managing people and priorities: re-centering the salt shaker. Instead of describing it here, I encourage you to seek out Setting the Table, and feast on the wisdom and wit of Pat Cetta that is sprinkled throughout the book. I will simply say this: its the managers job — the art of his or her job, in fact — to constantly re-focus staff on the single vision. This leads naturally to discuss of creating the vision, hiring people who buy into the vision, and assuring that you constantly refine the recipe for success while allowing the essential success factors intact.
COMMITMENT TRUMPS INTEREST
Finally, but most importantly, I emphasize commitment. Tenacity. Stick-to-it-iveness. Grit. Mental toughness. Guts. All the components of moving a career forward, especially for entrepreneurs, can be measured on paper, assigned a monetary value. Overhead and fixed costs are known quantities, labor costs, marketing costs, even the highly volatile raw materials costs can be assigned a value within a tight margin of error. The single variable that MasterCard would call “priceless” is commitment. Many business start-ups have failed chiefly because the owner was more interested in owning a business than he or she was committed to making the vision real.
My favorite demonstration of the difference between commitment and interest is the story of the pig and the chicken deliberating whose role was more important in preparing breakfast. As the chicken explained how breakfast just didn’t measure up without the eggs she produced, the pig chuckled smartly, and quickly put an end to the matter.
The difference between us, said the pig to the chicken, is that you are interested in making breakfast a success, while I am outright committed. You will live to lay many eggs on many days, but I? I must make the ultimate sacrifice for breakfast.
Similarly, leaders must always choose between being interested in their business or being committed to it. And so in closing, I leave you with perhaps the most meaningful Meyer quote in the entire book. One that speaks to me so personally, I almost wonder whether he has been inside my brain as I have pondered career opportunities and choices throughout my life.
“Often [during a particularly trying period in his career], I wanted to throw in the towel, and I fantasized about traveling back to 1985 . . . But I had chosen the appropriate path and I knew there was no going back.”
Meyer is defining that point where your journey offers you two options. And without making comparisons to Frost, instead of having to choose a path, I suggest you must choose your level of commitment.
THE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION
Is it time to turn around and start over, returning to a simpler, easier time? Or is it time to commit and see what greatness might lay ahead? Avalanches, like fire, can have a cleansing effect, a clarifying impact on your vision and your chances of making it a reality. Are you committed? If not, isn’t it time to do something powerful for yourself?