Want to know what is going on in our organization? Eat a meal in the employee lunch room!



W. Michael Phibbs

Have you ever watched Undercover Boss? Do you recognize similar problems in your work environment and wish that one day you would have a chance to tell your boss what you see as the problems hampering your organization and potential solutions? Fire Chiefs for decades have told up and coming Front Line Officers that if they want to know what is going on in their organizations they should eat a meal at a station. You build trust while breaking bread together. While sitting down together for a meal, fire fighters will tell you exactly what the feel, both good and bad. This sound advice resonates through all segments of public safety to the public sector. Steve Jobs once said of turnaround expert, “But how can he be an expert when he eats his lunch alone in his office.”1 Another widely endorsed action that will increase your understanding of what is really happening in your organization is MBWA (Manage By Walking About). MBWA is less effective than breaking down barriers over a meal, but the basic principal is the same, get out of your office and talk to the troops who do the work.

As years go by and we move up in ranks it is easy to become lost in our own office siloes. A new term, “Cubiment”, short for “cubical environment” has been created to describe how people spend their entire working day in the solitary environment of their cubicles (Cubical Farm is now too long for our even faster paced world). Most do not hear from their boss unless something is not going right. Even the most well-meaning manager can become fixated in clearing out their daily In-box. Little by little, day after day, we slowly become disassociated from the most important people in an organization. We cannot create organizational energy through email and power points expounding how proud we are of our employees. Human interaction and connection is the way real leaders become change agents.

Lunch can be a sacred time to spend with others you know and trust. Through the process of breaking bread together, leaders not only learn what is going on, but also have an opportunity to discuss ideas for the future. They can discuss where their organizations are going and obtain unfiltered feedback from their team members. Free flowing ideas will not happen at a banquet, or corporate outing, but will arise at a table in your own lunchroom. If you only eat at the Executive Lunchroom or at your desk, you may find it difficult to find people who trust you enough to eat with, at least at first. Over time, when people get accustomed to seeing you, some brave person will approach you and want to talk, and you should do just that, talk, about anything. You will be amazed at what you learn. I have seen many managers become re-inspired and become highly effective leaders through these little lunch room chats. You get a chance to really find out what is going on inside of your organizations. You can mentor people and learn who the up in coming leaders really are. In short, by breaking bread allows you have positive employee engagement.

What are you waiting for? Today, or tomorrow, set an appointment time in your Outlook calendar to eat with someone new. Either invite someone to sit with you or go over to a table ask to sit with a group. Engage them in small talk. It may take a while to break down the silos and build trust. By talking to people today, you head off problems of tomorrow. Pack a lunch and realize there is no limit to what you can be accomplish by breaking bread with someone new.


1.Becoming Steve Jobs, by Brent Schelander and Rick Tetzeli,

Knowing your guiding principles


Before I begin a session coaching executive level leaders on how to execute more effectively, I always challenge them describe their own guiding principles. Many executives can describe their organizations guiding mission statement or principles but often struggle to describe their own. They begin to squirm in their seats and often talk in generalities. For some, it can be difficult to keep them on task. Why? Simply because they have not thought enough about it. After struggling to come up with a list, many have a hard time defending their guiding principles. Early in your career, It is extremely important develop an internal understanding of what is important to you. I find it to be an extremely positive experience to help a client develop a rock solid set of principles that they want to live by.
Self-analysis is critical for anyone who is seeking to lead an organization. Look in any major newspaper and you will be able to read of a corporate leader being investigated for an ethics violation. Many leaders with enormous potential have faltered because they did not spend the time to develop and write down their own guiding principles. Get a piece of paper and write down answers to these three simple questions:
• What is important to you?
• What won’t you tolerate?
• What will you defend?
There are no right or wrong answers and the list can be as long or short as you wish. Writing the answers down helps to engrain them in your psyche. If you simply think about the answers you are not engaged. Writing down the answers takes energy and helps physically and mentally to tie you into the process. If you feel uneasy about your answers, you should review your list and ask yourself why you came up with the answers. Are the answers what others want you to say? Are they really important to you? If you don’t know the answers to these three questions you may appear, at best, to be a ship adrift on a sea of ambiguity, and at worst, having a moral compass which quickly changes directions. Look at your list at least once a week.
Most develop guiding principles that are congruent with the organizations they wish to lead. Not surprisingly, some find that they are not happy at work because deep down their lists did not match what their company espoused. Some decided to move on and now have great careers in other companies. Others decided to stay and try to change their company’s culture from the inside. Regardless of the outcome, you have a responsibility to yourself and your organization to develop your own list of guiding principles.