Great business leadership only goes so far


In the summers when I was a college student, I was a waiter at a small hotel off an interstate, a hotel that occasionally was packed with tourists, but more often wasn't. Because the tips weren't great, they could never attract great waiters, and they didn't. They got me.

How bad was I? Well, I once brought a guy's salad to him after I served his family dessert.

I spent several months over two summers, serving tables, working tirelessly but never really improving at my job. I used to make corny jokes ("What's our soup of the day? Well, first of all, it's last Thursday's..."). I was pleasant and courteous, but I frequently mixed up orders, giving people lasagna instead of linguini,bringing them a BLT instead of a burger, and God help the several customers who ordered steak, all of them in different was: medium, medium-rare, well done. To this day, I'm surprised the management didn't take pity on the customers and send me packing.

I kept trying to do better, but I could never quite figure out what I was doing wrong. So I blamed a poor memory, at least under the pressure of pleasing very hungry tourists, and I also blamed my ineptitude on the fact that I had always been something of a klutz -- I often ran into the kitchen, forgetting I had spilled milk earlier and that I hadn't yet cleaned it up. A lot of customers would ask me later what the sound of crashing pots and pans were. But now, after talking to Bill Catlette, co-author of the book, Contented Cows MOOve Faster, I'm rethinking my problem. Maybe I was, as Catlette puts it, "disengaged." After all, I wasn't dreaming of someday being a waiter. I wanted to be a writer.