Let them Eat Cake (in Four Bites)

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The phrase “let them eat cake” is often attributed to Marie Antoinette, the Queen executed during the French Revolution. This is disputed, as the phrase was first written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau before King Louis XVI’s main squeeze arrived in France.

The French word used for cake is brioche, which we also recognize here across the pond from our European neighbors. This week’s photo is a chocolate brioche, which turned into a bit of a temptation while writing.

Origin aside, the phrase related to the extravagance and indifference of the aristocracy, creating discontent among the common people that led to the French Revolution.

The moral of the story – when someone in a position of power or privilege displays indifference or complete disregard toward the difficulties faced by others, trouble eventually follows.

Get the application for us as leaders?

Don’t lose the connection with those you lead.

Most leaders don’t intentionally lose touch. But, we are all busy and the pressures of daily schedules can cause drift. Unless we are intentional about connecting.

Here are four ideas that may help. Think of them as bites of the chocolate brioche, which is certainly a delightful way to absorb them.

Visit More – years ago Peter Drucker introduced the phrase “Management by Walking Around.” The statement speaks for itself. I’ve nothing to add except to underscore its pure simple genius.

So – what Peter Drucker said.

This has now become second nature to me. It has resulted in some wonderful conversations with people and also has served as an early warning system, of sorts, for what may be troubling them that may affect the organization later.

Try doing this for 10 to 15 minutes a day. You may be delightfully surprised. If your team is remote, pick up the phone or schedule a 15 minute “Zoom Coffee.”

Ask Questions – this daily walkabout is not to inform people about your greatness or to receive glowing adoration from your team. Instead, it provides them vital access to their leader.

Since you’re the boss (and especially if this is new for you), some people may initially question your motives. Job one is to approach them with an open demeanor and with genuine interest in how they are getting along.

That said, this isn’t a social call. Dr. Drucker’s phrase was “management” by walking around, not “happy hour” by walking around. Don’t disregard social pleasantries, of course, but then ask intelligent questions designed to uncover relational, process or other things that may be causing problems.

One of my favorite questions here is – what is frustrating you or holding you up in your work? Don’t leave it there, once you find out then ask them their opinion on what should be done or how they would solve the problem.

Practice Active Listening – once you understand the frustrations or problems, resist immediately jumping in with your own opinions on a solution or what “management” is already doing about it. For now, just get the “real scoop” from the boots on the ground. Listen more than you speak, and ask follow on questions to further clarify. You can take action later.

Maintain Your Boundaries – too much walking around can lead to a revolving door of people wanting to talk. Like any good leader, manage your time here and put guard rails in place.

John Maxwell says “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I can’t think of a better phrase to encapsulate the foundation of this entire idea.

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