It’s Not About The Barbecue

Paul Heagen Purposeful Leadership & Living Leave a Comment

How does getting a degree in physics and aerospace engineering prepare you to own a neighborhood barbecue restaurant?
It doesn’t. It’s way harder than that.
Yet, if you want a great example of what it means to have your business mean more than its product, pull up a chair.
Matt Cuff had a good gig as a design engineer with a major aerospace manufacturer, but when he decided to enter a local barbecue contest – and won it – it turned up the burners on his simmering dreams to recreate the sense of community around barbecue that he remembered from his days growing up around Cleveland.
A few zoning hurdle-broken oven-under capitalized-menu fails-cash famine-supplier breakdown months later, he was in business. To a point. Except when he opened up his latest shop in a struggling Cincinnati neighborhood, he faced another problem – too many of his employees, hired intentionally from the surrounding neighborhood, were lacking some basic life skills.
So amid the hot ovens and cutting boards and sauce pans and chalkboard menu updates, he opened up class. An aerospace engineer teaching them about family, finances, faith, work ethic, health and values. Oh, and how to make great barbecue.
Did it pay off? A few weeks ago he gets a call from one of his people – she’s yelling at him that one of the other employees is not making the potato salad exactly right. She then hands the phone to another co-worker who takes up the baton and yells at Matt as well. This is NOT how you told us to make the potato salad! We can’t serve this!”
Matt’s reaction? “I’m laughing because here are two of my people who care as much about making potato salad correctly as I do!”
Why do they care so much about making potato salad correctly?
Because they know he cares so much about them.
Matt will tell you it’s not about the barbecue (well, it is in a way, because you have to have great barbecue) but his purpose is to impact lives, breathe new life into his neighborhood and maybe even take a fresh shot at recreating that sense of community that was so much an influence in his life.
In an era when the balanced scorecard holds sway as the touchstone for business success (and certainly it is a window into how well all your “stakeholders” measure you), it pays to consider where it starts. Whatever the size of your enterprise, whatever else is on your plate, it’s hard to imagine a better place to invest genuine leadership than in the hearts and minds of your own people.

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