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I Spent 7 Bucks At Panera And Got To See These 4 Priceless Leadership Lessons In Action

Those timeless leadership lessons: leading from the front, following up on feedback, encouraging openness and communication.

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BY Brian Roberts - 11 Aug 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

This post cost me $7.35. Or at least that's how much my salad at a Panera Bread in Old Bridge, New Jersey cost me.

But the leadership lessons I got to see in action were far more valuable than just a few avocado slices and lettuce leaves.

Now, if you're scratching your head wondering what seven bucks and a salad have to do with leadership, don't worry. Your leadership appetite will be satisfied in a second.

But first, some quick context.

It was already noon and I hadn't eaten since the night before. I was on the road and Panera Bread was close by, so I decided to stop in. After I placed my order I took a seat and shortly after, a well-dressed man named Vik approached with my salad in tow.

It was then that I saw our first leadership lesson in action.

Encourage Communication

I combed through my salad with disappointment.

I was really looking forward to the extra avocado I paid for, yet it was completely absent from my dish. It was only an extra 79 cents though, so I figured I'd just suck it up. Until Vik reappeared a few moments later and asked if everything came out as I had ordered.

I told him, hesitantly, that I was bummed the avocado was missing. I felt like a nuisance for raising a complaint but he made it clear that I was actually helping him by providing candid feedback. "I look at it like a learning experience for us" he said.

Here are two lessons you can learn this:

1. Reframe to encourage openness and communication

Especially if you may not like what you'll hear. If you have several regular customers who are all sharing feedback with you, you'll be able to improve customer retention and optimize store operations in tandem. That should be the gold standard for all B2C companies.

2. Follow up on the feedback you receive

Make the situation right and, if you can't, share why. Genuine acknowledgement of my concern - something most companies fail miserably at - would've been enough, but Vik brought out another salad--avocado included--to ensure I left satisfied. That's customer service, and that good customer service was a byproduct of his good communication and leadership.

Lead From The Front

According to a 2015 Gallup study titled The State of the American Manager, 50 percent of people leave a job to "get away from their manager at some point." Further research found that "manager[s] account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement."

Well, if there's one place you're likely to find disengaged employees eager to escape management woes, it's in the fast casual food business. Yet, here was this Panera Bread location, bustling with employees who seemed engaged and to be firing on all cylinders.

That's because this one manage was leading front the front.

Two additional takeaways you can learn from this:

1. Don't be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get dirty

If there's one thing employees don't get, it's appreciation for their hard work and sacrifice. When you roll up your sleeves and work side by side with them, it inspires them to work harder while also showing you understand the importance of their work. That's how you strengthen morale and become a respected leader.

2. Embody your team's ideal habits and values

There's a popular, albeit poor, piece of parenting speak that goes "does as I say, not as I do". But, if a millennia of human history and evolution have taught us anything, it's that we behave the opposite. As a leader, people will tends do what you do and not what you say.

Leaders who lead from the front set the pace all while providing an example for their team to follow. That's improving employee morale and efficiency all at once, and that too should be the gold standard of all customer facing companies. That's respectable, too.

Here's the proof: before I left I wanted to make sure I got his name right for this story, so I asked an employee at the front register for confirmation.

"Oh, Vik? He's good" she said.