Some years ago, I was a general manager for a large restaurant chain. I and the other general mangers were in a restaurant that had just been newly remodeled. As we were getting ready for the meeting someone brought in a box of those powder-sugar covered donuts. The box was placed on a large round booth table and everyone began to take one. At that moment my boss asked me to speak to him for a moment and discuss a potential candidate for general manager out of the assistant managers available.

The person in question was competent enough and was fairly productive in all the job codes. He knew how to do schedules, the food orders, sanitation, and staffing. But there was something about him that I did not feel comfortable with as a general manager. He just didn’t have the leadership I felt was necessary for a general manager. My boss kept pressing me for a more suitable answer, because he couldn’t hold someone back without a tangible reason to do so. However, I just couldn’t put my finger on why I did not want him promoted.

Just then one of the powdered donuts was knocked off the table and we saw that it had hit the brand new carpet and rolled under the table leaving a powder sugar trail. As we watched this unfold one of the other GMs got down on his hands and knees and crawled under the table to get the donut. There was no discussion no thought behind it, he just dropped down and got the donut. Now this guy was no ordinary man. He must have weighed at least 350 and with a 55” waist. I mean he was big. He never seemed to walk right always kind of waddled around, but in spite of that he got he donut without even the slightest hesitation, even though there were others who would have done so much easier than he did. Any one of them would have not hesitated if he had asked one of them to get it.

It was then that I realized what the problem was that I had with this GM candidate. I exclaimed to my boss that I knew the answer. I told him this guy would not have gotten the donut. He would certainly have asked someone else to do it. If he was alone at the table he would walk back to the kitchen and get a dishwasher to do it if necessary. He very rarely helped the employees with their customers. He simply was not willing to do the things that he asked others to do. Now you may be saying, isn’t a good manager supposed to get others to do things so he can focus on the customers? Yes that is correct, however, in a fast paced restaurant there isn’t always someone to do those things and I always expected my managers to be as involved in the operation as any other employee. If the cooks needed help, I expected them to cook, if the dishwashers needed help, I expected them to wash dishes. The manager’s role in this restaurant was far more than someone walking around carrying keys drinking coffee talking to customers. We expected them to work every job code as needed, not just find someone else to do things that were less desirable. Many times a late night dishwasher would not show up, I washed dishes until I could find a replacement. Was it pleasant, no it wasn’t. But it was necessary.

After a couple minutes reflection my boss agreed and could not think of a single time this other manager took time to do something that was not very pleasant. And I believe he never got promoted because of his lack of action.

The story was so powerful that it became a hallmark of our managers’ meetings for the rest of the time I was with the company.

So what do we learn from the donut. If you are looking to be a leader of people and not just a order giver, pick up the donut. If you want people to follow you, pick up the donut, if you want people to be inspired by your presence, pick up the donut. Humble yourself by doing the little things to be trusted to do the big things.

The more time you spend working on the little things that help your employees work conditions the more they will do for you. I became so respected for this, I hardly ever failed to find someone to cover a shift of someone calling in sick on my shift. Often times, I would try to fill a call off and the person would ask me who was managing that shift. If it was a manager that wasn’t as respected for helping it was always more difficult. Often my boss would call and ask to send an employee to another restaurant. This was nearly impossible due to the poor leadership in the other stores.

The key is to be willing to do anything you would need to ask someone else to do. This isn’t always practical but the more you implement it when it is the more people will respond to your leadership, and if you keep in mind the true definition of a leader is someone with followers, you will soon find that others will willingly follow you given the fact that there are few others who are willing to be the kind of person who will get down on their hands and knees and crawl under a table to pick up the DONUT!!!

Bill Loyd

Author's Bio: 

Bill Loyd is the founder of Moving Forward Motivation, a motivation and inspiration company based in Northern California. He is the author of best selling book "The 6 Keys that Lie Within You to Live a Successful Life -- Revealed." He is a highly sought after speaker and writer.