What Cracker Barrel Taught me about Leadership

IMG_2172I have two quick stories I want to share with you for two reasons:

  1. I want to vent (aka complain) about these frustrating experiences I’ve witnessed recently.
  2. I want to draw out a good leadership lesson that can be taken away from both as well.

Story #1:

A few weeks ago I was on a date with my beautiful wife. I asked her where she would like to eat lunch. She said, “I don’t care,” which after 18 years of marriage I have come to learn really means, “You had better pick something awesome, because I really DO care where I will be eating lunch!” (But I digress.)

So we ended up picking a restaurant that we both like from time to time…Cracker Barrel. You can laugh if you want, but other than the fact that we are always about three or four decades younger than anyone else in the place, the food is really good (not to mention the sweet tea!) (But I digress again.)

Anyway, after we had finished our delicious meal and I was standing in line at the cash register to pay, I witnessed an interesting thing happening.

A young man walked in holding a small personal pizza box from Dominos Pizza. He approached the hostess station and informed the lady that a group of his friends were already seated and eating in the dining room. He politely asked if he could go sit with his friends and eat his lunch. He even offered to buy a drink from Cracker Barrel. I’ll stop right here to say that this guy already was more compliant than I would have been. I would have just walked in and sat down with my friends. Sometimes it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission! (But I digress, again!)

Instead of letting him go in, the hostess said she wasn’t sure what their policy was on a situation like this and asked the man to wait while she went and got the manager. Well now I was so curious to see how this was going to play out that I stepped out of line to wait for the manger to arrive. (I mean, haven’t you ever wondered what Cracker Barrel’s policy was on letting an outsider with a Dominos Pizza eat at one of their tables?) So within a few moments the manager arrived and I watched this man agonize over what I thought should’ve been a pretty simple decision. I mean the guy’s friends were already sitting down purchasing food from Cracker Barrel. This guy was also going to purchase a drink. The manager could have (hear SHOULD have) taken the high road and made the relationship between Cracker Barrel and this (potential) customer the priority. But in the end, the manager made company POLICY the priority and informed the guy that he would need to eat his pizza out in his car! So the guy walked out and ate in his car…alone… while his friends ate inside. My guess is it might be a while before he ever gives any more business to Cracker Barrel.

Story #2:

A few weeks back I had spent a day in another city working remotely from the public library. When I came out to my car to leave, I realized that I had accidently left my headlights on all day and my battery was dead. I had another appointment back in town and needed to quickly find someone to give me a jump. I looked across the street and guess what I saw? A NAPA Auto Parts store! Man, was I in luck or what? I mean, after all isn’t this a company whose entire business is built on the premise of helping people get their cars running again? I figured they’d be happy to help me. So I walked across the street to where one of their employees was outside unloading a truck. I explained my predicament and asked if he might be able to come and give my car a quick jump. His answer? “I’m sorry, we can’t do that. It’s our company’s policy that we don’t give jumps to people.” So I walked away, feeling slightly embarrassed for having asked and even more annoyed with the fact a company thinks it’s a good idea to make their policy more important than offering a quick hand to someone in need.

So what’s the point in all of this? To be clear, it’s not to give a black eye to Cracker Barrel or NAPA. I’m sure I will give my business to both places again (actually, I already have to Cracker Barrel!).

I guess the thing I walked away from both of these experiences with is the leadership principle that PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN POLICY!

I’m a big believer in the idea that some rules are meant to be broken. There are times that our well-meaning policy should go on hold or be overlooked when it’s within our grasp to help someone and make our relationship to him or her the greater priority rather than the “rule” we might be breaking at that moment.

So to all the leaders out there, make it your policy to put relationships with people over policy!

About Jon Sanders

Follower of Jesus; Husband to an amazing woman; Father of 3 great kids; Pastor of a multi-site church with a vision to reach rural America for Christ!
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