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Confessions of a Leader

I will never forget my experience managing a Barnes and Noble Cafe in Birmingham, Alabama. I was 20 years old at the time. My previous experience in food consisted of serving tables at two restaurants. I started at Red Lobster, but only lasted about two months. The cheese biscuits were amazing, but weren’t quite enough to keep me around. I then moved to Johnny Rockets, eventually making my way to a management position.

As I started at Barnes and Noble, I realized quickly that I was behind the curve when it came to customer service. Not only was I bad at it, I honestly didn’t like it. How could someone not like customer service? Well, at the time, way back when, in my younger days, I had a strong, and I would say misplaced, sense of justice. The gall of people walking into my store acting like it was their God-given right to get what they want, when they want. Humans, in my estimation, were generally self-absorbed. As any self-proclaimed hero would do, I took it upon myself to save society. It was my mission to correct a negative cultural trend by refusing to give into the ridiculous notion that the “customer is always right.” Besides being a really horrible business plan, this mission was completely foolish for so many reasons.

Thank God I had a boss that loved me enough to lead me in a different direction. Amanda, the general manager at Barnes and Noble, was a master at constant-gentle-pressure. At first, she made me angry. I rejected her approach to hospitality. But she persisted. At Christmas, she made me buy gifts for three annoying regular customer. She challenged me to care more. She pushed me to see customers through the lens of human dignity. And eventually, she changed my view. I learned the real problem was me. I was just as self-absorbed as any customer. If I really wanted to cause change, then I needed to get beyond myself. Giving Christmas presents was hard. Really hard! But something about the act of giving helped changed my mindset.

Amanda taught me how to positively impact people. People don’t change by force. People are changed when we lovingly and sacrificially care for them. If you ever find yourself at Barnes and Noble at the Summit, be sure to ask for Amanda. If she is there, ask her if she will give you some leadership advice. It will be well worth your time.


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