Recently I visited a medium size bakery. My host was the founder, a third generation pastry chef, and, as I quickly learned, a very clever yet profoundly modest person. As we talked about how he had started the business and guided its growth, it was immediately obvious to me that he completely understood who he is and who he is not. He has assembled a team of managers around him to handle all of the aspect of the business that are not his natural bent. When I asked him, “What part of the business do you wake up in the morning and rush over here to get to?”, he immediately launched into stories of his new products, pies, cakes, torts, pastries of all sorts. When I asked him about other parts of the business, he referred to his colleagues as the holders of the reins and wisdom, though I had no doubt that he had more than a passing awareness of those fields, too. Overall, during our discussion, he focused continuously on the positive, the positives in his people, customers, and suppliers. The negatives were just factors to be dealt with, but not moaned over. So, I thought, here is a manager with a powerful sense of the strength of the positive.
Finally, we got to the tour of the plant. This is the third plant he has built. Clearly he had continued to learn lessons. The most telling point for me came when we paused in the break room and he pointed to a TV hanging off the wall to explain that they frequently used that for employee training. Then, he told me this wonderful story.
[I paraphrase his story below]
Recently we have been hiring employees who come from Brazil. We carefully sit them down in front of the TV and show them videos about the importance of cleanliness and detailed instructions for washing hands. After the video we re-emphasize the importance of hand washing, especially the use of hot water. So, I think, we have done a good job of instructing our new hires.
Then, I noticed that when they went to one of the numerous wash stations, they used cold water to wash. Well, lets repeat the lessons with more emphasis on hot water. Nothing seemed to be working. Finally, I learned from one of the employees that for many Brazilians, warm water is bad water, it is the water standing around in their tropical and semi-tropical environments. For them, cold water is rare and represents purity. Aha, now I understood how to break through. They are responding with their hearts in the best way they know how.
I was stunned. Here was his power of the positive in action and on display. No executive speech. A simple story that demonstrates how he sees the best in people around him and acts on that.