Waffle House, Leadership, and Lucien Truscott

Inspiration comes from the strangest sources.

A while ago, my wife and I stopped in a random Waffle House and due to the early Sunday afternoon post-church rush, they were slammed, and the only seats available were at the counter. There, we had front row seats to the eleven-person shift calling out, cooking, and picking up orders as well as cleaning as they went, clearing tables, cashing people out and doing dishes.

Chaos. Pure, coordinated chaos.

The strangest part of this Sunday rush at Waffle House?

There was no bitching, no standing around, and no silent stares of resentment at the manager – Roy – as he gruffly chastised, quickly corrected, and firmly set the pace of the grill. On the contrary, there was joking, acceptance of redirection, and friendly conversation with everyone on both sides of the counter.

“Sometimes people don’t show up,” Roy told me in the middle of cashing out the rush. “I dunno…they just don’t want to work. Tell the truth, there’s times when I’m here 17-18 hours. But we seem to get along and it makes it ok.”

So, I tipped not only the waitress, but Roy as well. There’s times when I start to think that the workforce is full of negatives, but today, I had pork chops with a side of hope.

Roy was no Major General Lucien K. Truscott, but he seemed to understand the basic principles and foundations of action over title, and in this sense, Truscott’s words rang true:

Character is what you are. Reputation is what others think you are. The reason that some fail to climb the ladder of success, or of leadership if you want to call it that, is that there is a difference between reputation and character. The two do not always coincide. A man may be considered to have sterling character. Opportunity might come to that man; but if he has the reputation for something he is not, he may fail that opportunity. I think character is the foundation of successful leadership.

Inspiration is also fleeting. There were times when I had no opportunity to write down the jumble of ideas that were going through my head, but this was one idea that I couldn’t let go of:

Leadership isn’t academic. There are examples all through history of phenomenal leaders with little in the way of what would pass for “proper” credentials by today’s standards.

Leadership isn’t dictated by – nor should it ever be – dictated solely on the rank, title, or position of an individual. If those things are the foundation for leadership, then that person is more than likely NOT the best person for that role.

Leadership is a conversation from which one can walk away from feeling inspired on some level. Whether it is praise or the proverbial “ass chewing,” an internal change for the better is the desired result and the mark of effective leadership.

Leadership isn’t instant gratification. One brick does not constitute the Great Wall of China. Instead, it is often a (sometimes) thankless contribution to the path towards greatness… or at least “betterness,” which has a positive momentum of its own.

Around the same time I was having these serious internal discussions about leadership, I had participated in an Army-mandated computer-based training module on Composite Risk Management. I got a bit irked and had fun with the critique:

In the space below, please provide any additional comments you would like to give or any suggestions you would like to offer for improving the Composite Risk Management Operational Course.

CRM. Does anyone ever read these critiques? CRM is replacing good common sense with a “tangible” product that, if you read the statistics, probably wouldn’t make much difference when compared to the same ratios from 20 years ago.

The Army’s mission requires a lot of young and lean warriors. Simple fact. With the youth, comes inexperience and a certain self-image of imperviousness that often leads to poor decision making and judgment.

The Army’s current trend in personnel management has based “leadership” on the wrong merits – military education… civilian education…PT… weapons scores…how the Soldier’s DA photo appears…NCOER’s/OER’s written by the rated individual instead of the proper way. This leads to a certain mindset of “what do I need to do to get past this course?” instead of making the material pertinent and relevant. Sure, you can have classes out the wazoo (technical term, I believe), but the accidents will still keep happening due to the fact that we’re human. We DO learn at some point – though for some it is usually when a friend is lost… not, however, due to 20 hours of PowerPoint classes on accidents.

The recommendation? You won’t like the answer – especially if you are stuck in an office somewhere, removed from the daily life of a line unit – there is no good answer… no easy “fix.” More classes are DEFINITELY not the answer. We (collectively) aren’t paying much attention anymore. Haven’t for a while, honestly. Fix the leadership. Get the “leaders” out of the office and talking…. genuinely TALKING… to their guys.
We will fix what we can… just please… no more classes.

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Truth. (Source: ifunny.co)

This post is combination of three separate posts or notes on Facebook, but there is a unifying theme: leadership is active, inspired, and effective only when the feedback is valued.

In the case of the busy Waffle House, the title of “manager” did not imply that the success of his crew and their morale would nicely fall into place, “just because.” Roy’s character, in the brief time we were privileged spectators, spoke of a solid reputation with the folks he led.

At the same time, a bureaucratic monstrosity which dictates remote training on risk management also undermines the validity and importance of such classes by relegating the material to a “check-the-box” triviality which most just finish as quickly as possible, only to move to more pressing and immediate issues (or more computer-based training). By offering a section for commentary, the hope that “suggestions… for improving” a course would be taken seriously, but the lack of engagement and follow-up on such feedback diminishes such optimism and credibility in the processes deemed “important” by the organization.

Leadership is an art often elaborated upon in courses, texts, blog posts, and in various other mediums, but the core of leadership is about managing a balance between resources, risk, and goals. Sure, this post has fallen into the trap that “leadership isn’t academic,” but there are times when a reminder is necessary: leadership is sometimes much simpler – and inspired – than most people think.

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One Reply to “Waffle House, Leadership, and Lucien Truscott”

  1. I really liked this post. Am Belgian, so if I see waffle in a title I click. You’re right, you don’t need a title to be a leader. Some men and women are just contagious. Somehow the post made me think of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Patrick Cleburne, John B. Gordon and any highschool dropout who’s made millions…

    Liked by 1 person

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