How a Linebacker’s Call for Soft Bread Shaped Me as a Leader
When it comes to learning leadership skills, the best training can occasionally surface in subtle and unexpected ways.
One of my responsibilities as manager for my high school football team in Southwest Mississippi was to help prepare and serve the pre-game meal. This duty meant working in the industrial kitchen of the high school cafeteria on Friday afternoon to provide the sustenance to fortify our team for the evening’s game. Expectations were high and specific.
On one occasion, I heard a call out from our star high school linebacker, and it was direct and unequivocal: “Make the bread soft!”
The pre-game meal consisted of traditional Southern favorites: fried chicken, mashed potatoes (with as much gravy as desired), green beans, the always-popular fruit salad, and, of course, bread. To be sure, the bread was classic white loaf with no frills; my job was to butter it liberally and to toast it—correctly.
This direction to “make the bread soft” helped me realize that even a subtle detail of service can produce a big difference for a team. From this I learned the following three lessons that have helped shape me as a leader throughout my career:
1. Create Positive and Consistent Expectations
It was clear that toasting the bread but keeping it soft was an absolute requirement. The players expected it. Nothing ruined a good pre-game meal more than hard toast. I became an expert soft-toast maker as I hovered over the commercial oven to ensure the perfect toasting time and temperature. Therefore, our players were happy for they knew that every Friday they would enjoy a delicious meal along with scrumptious, perfectly toasted bread.
2. Build an Atmosphere for Success
In service to our football team, my job to help prepare the pre-game meal was more than serving up the bread to our players’ specification. The aroma of good food cooking that filled the dining area was inviting and helped provide a welcoming environment. The tone for the rest of the afternoon and evening was set as soon as the team walked into the cafeteria. It was not just about the food so much as it was about creating the atmosphere for success. The camaraderie of breaking bread together meant more; it helped the players bond as a team.
3. Always Make the Effort
Let’s face it. The pre-game meal was not going to dictate how well our team played on a given Friday night. However, in preparation for the game, each detail was important, even when it came to making soft bread. Did it matter? To 80 high school football players who were also my friends, it absolutely mattered. Just as significant, the diligence and dedication required to help make their Friday afternoon pre-game routine a rewarding experience mattered to me.
Regardless of your job description and the position you hold, ask yourself, what positive and consistent expectations are you creating for your team?
The best leaders strive to take the next step. What “more” are you building for your team? In other words, how much attention to the details are you putting into the role that you play? Does the effort matter to you and to others? Regardless of your job description and the position you hold, ask yourself, what positive and consistent expectations are you creating for your team?
Whatever your “soft bread moment” may be, know that your commitment to service and your leadership are of value to your team—something they will appreciate, learn from, and carry forward.