Dispatches from the Field

An Accidental Leader

An Accidental Leader

I was recently reading Simon Sinek’s New York Times bestseller, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.

It reminded me of a quote from his many talks and podcasts found all over the Internet.

It goes something like this…

Leadership is not about being in charge, it is about taking care of those in your charge.


Later that day I was further reminded of a formative experience I had as a young man.

Way back in the mid-eighties, that would be the “nineteen-eighties”, I was a young, ambitious General Manager of a successful restaurant in Northern California. It seems like a lifetime ago. There was no Internet, were no cell phones and we did our books and inventory with paper, pencil and calculators.

How did we manage? 🙂

Sorry, I digress. Back to the aforementioned experience.

During one of our famously busy lunch rushes, the owner of the company came over to the counter where I was helping my staff get the orders out and held up a bank deposit bag. He told me it contained the paperwork for our upcoming payroll and he was going to leave it on his desk in the back office for me to pick up later and take to the bank.

Importantly, he told me it had to get to the bank that day for the paychecks to be cut on time.

He was rushing to get out of town on a business trip and didn’t have time to drop it off at the bank himself.

Between taking care of customers and answering employee questions, I responded, “Sure, no problem.”

Fast forward to the next morning.


I’m back in the office getting the cash drawers set up for the new day’s business, and I happened to look over at his desk. I saw the bank deposit bag he left the day before! “Oh sh*t!” I said. In all the mayhem of the lunch rush, I had totally forgotten about the payroll bag.

Paychecks were going to be late. Fifty-some-odd people we not going to get their paychecks on time. And it was my fault.

No big deal you might say. They’ll just get their checks late.

Thing was, many of these people lived paycheck-to-paycheck and getting their check late could mean missing a rent or car payment getting paid on time. This mattered.

So I called the bank to see what our options were. The paperwork had to be at their San Francisco office by 11:00 a.m. for the payroll to process on time. I was a good hour and a half away by car and it was closing in on 10:00 a.m.

The bank officer offered that I could just unlock the bag and read the names and payroll numbers to him over the phone and he could input it manually. And the checks could go out on time. Great!

Not so great, I’m afraid. I did not have the key to the bag. The owner had the only key and he was out of town.

I had made a decision. I was going to do everything in my power to make sure my people got paid on time.

So, seeing as there is a large selection of sharp cutting tools in a restaurant kitchen, I found one that was strong enough to cut through the thick canvas bag and retrieved the paperwork and read all the payroll details to the bank officer over the phone. We finished at 10:55 a.m.

Payroll would go out on time!

When the owner returned the following week and I told him what had happened, he hit the roof!

You see, his payroll info was in there too. I had violated his privacy. I wasn’t sure I still had a job at that point.

After the dust settled, I still had a job and never made the mistake again.

I must be clear here. I never forgot to take the payroll bag to the bank again. That was the mistake.

I always, and to this day, felt I did the right thing in cutting open that bag. The people that work for you have to feel you have their back. In a business, that is priceless but often comes at a great price. Perhaps even your job. Sometimes, when the stakes are high, it can even cost you your life.

In closing, I have to confess I paraphrased what Simon Sinek really said.

He said…

Leadership is not a rank, it is a responsibility. Leadership is not about being in charge, it is about taking care of those in your charge.

And when we take care of our people, our people will take care of us. They will help see that our cause becomes a reality.


Follow his advice, and you will be well on your way to REMARKABLE!


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