Leadership

6 leadership lessons you can learn over lunch

Grilled brisket and cheddar sandwich
Arun Nevader | Getty Images
Grilled brisket and cheddar sandwich

Might I suggest you take a lunch away from the office this week? Put away the cell phone and any other distractions and just spend some time observing.

Why?

Well, you never know what leadership lessons you can learn from a change of venue. One afternoon, I stepped away from the office and walked to a local park. People were flocking to a few food trucks parked on the street adjacent to the public area. As I watched the crowd, I made six leadership observations.

My hope is that you can apply these ideas to yourself, your team and your organization.

1. Turn something common into something cool

I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly (PB&J) sandwiches as a kid. I understand that memories depart from reality over time, but I swear I ate them daily for 8 or 9 years. Whether this memory is accurate or not, the point is clear — a PB&J sandwich was commonplace and certainly not cool. Food trucks have given the PB&J sandwich a new lease on life. A truck labeled The Monsterlicious PB&J Sandwich is far from ordinary — it's an experience.

Consider these questions about your team or organization:

  • Is there anything about your product or service that has become commonplace? If so, what can you do to breath new life into it?
  • Do your own employees even see your offerings as cool? If not, how can they talk personally about them?
  • Would people stand in line to buy what you offer or your team provides?

2. Remain focused & passionate, and leverage the abundance mentality

We know the value of focus and passion, but we sometimes forget the value of abundance. One thing that makes food trucks so successful is that each truck focuses on a particular offering (baked potatoes, grilled cheese, donuts, etc.) and the owners and workers are excited — sometimes overly excited — about the specific fare they serve. At the same time, they work in concert with other trucks — they travel in packs. Few people will cross a busy street to get to one food truck, but they will travel across town to visit a collection of them. One truck is interesting — a gaggle of trucks is a festival.

Consider these questions about your team or organization:

  • Does your team and organization practice scarcity or abundance?
  • How are these practices impacting your success today and in the long-term?
  • Are you missing opportunities to work with other partners, even competitors, to expand the market together?
Chef Ryan Harkins in the Grill Em All truck.
Arun Nevader | Getty Images
Chef Ryan Harkins in the Grill Em All truck.

3. Show up where people are; don't make them hunt you down

Food trucks are mobile — how's that for insightful? The beauty of their mobility is they can go to where people are and make it easy for customers to buy from them. There is something wonderful about a customer's rumbling stomach being met at that right moment with a roaring engine.

Consider these questions about your team or organization:

  • Do you make it easy for customers to buy from you?
  • Do you put yourself in the right place at the right time?
  • Are you so focused on your product, your service, your language, etc. that everything is driven from your perspective, not your customers?

4. Generate excitement through a bit of mystery

When a food truck arrives on the scene with a crazy paint job or intriguing name, a bit of mystery is created. You then catch a glimpse of the menu board and the mystery continues. Who doesn't want to find out what the 'Groucho Marx' Mushroom Melt is? Or, why a side item is called 'Miss Vicky's' chips? Or, what the 'Steaming Goat' serves?

Consider these questions about your team or organization:

  • Is there a bit of mystery or surprise in what you offer? Do you put a toy at the bottom of your 'cereal box'? Is there an Oprah moment when people reach under their seats? Where's the mystery?
  • Has everything become so routine for you, your people, and your customers that everyone is sleepwalking through the relationship?
Chef and co-owner Curtis Lam in the Chairman truck kitchen
Arun Nevader | Getty Images
Chef and co-owner Curtis Lam in the Chairman truck kitchen

5. Create a movement along the way

Food trucks are more than just meals on wheels. They are a bit of a movement.

How do I know?

Well, people are passionate about them (check that off the movement criteria list).

Lots of money exchanges hands (check).

Events are focused on them (check).

And, if that isn't enough proof, t-shirts proclaiming the phenomenon exist (check). Case closed.

Consider these questions about your team or organization:

  • Is your team or organization creating a movement? Or, are you simply lagging behind? Following is fine, losing ground along the way isn't.
  • What movement has yet to be formed that your organization can lead?

6. Be careful if you invest too heavily in a fad

I don't know the lifespan of the food truck movement. Perhaps it is already dying. I do know one thing, coming late to the effort and investing money in a short-term fad is not a good move. Nor, is it smart to double-down on something that is on it's way out. You need passion and focus, but you also need foresight and money in your bank account. Don't start a business or a product line as a hobby — that typically becomes an expensive undertaking.

Consider these questions about your team or organization:

  • Is your team or organization focusing energy on something that is dying?
  • Could you energies be better placed elsewhere?
  • What should you, your team, or your organization stop doing today because its truly going the wrong direction?

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Patrick Leddin is a professor at Vanderbilt University, a global management consultant and a business and management writer.