Quirky Reminder of Lessons Learned

Posted: August 13, 2014 in Leadership
Tags: , , , , ,

During my professional career, I have visited many executives in their offices.  I am always interested in the things I see on the desk or around the office.  Yes, many have pictures of family, friends, colleagues, etc. There are often trophies, awards or certificates.  There are sometimes products of hobbies.

The one thing that always interests me is that one unique item.  The one item that is a reminder of a powerful lesson learned.  Through the years I have seen some unique items, like strangely deformed metal, blobs of plastic, coins of every type, paper clip art. Then there is that unique ordinary, almost trash worthy, item that only the occupant of the office can appreciate.  That special item is there as a constant personal daily reminder of a powerful lesson learned. Those are the items I enjoy learning about.

In a small space in my office, in a place only noticeable to me, is just such a memento. I placed the item as a metaphoric reminder of a lesson learned as a leader.  Before I show you, let me tell you a little about its inspiration.

A few years ago, I heard John Maxwell challenge a group of executive leaders with this question:  “If you and the person who replaces the toilet paper in the restrooms are both absent tomorrow, who will your people miss more?”

The question generated a lot of nervous laughter. It was a rhetorical question that carried a lot of weight. The question was asked to challenge leaders to focus on servant leadership.

About a year later, I listened to a recording of that same lesson from John Maxwell.  This time the question stuck me with greater interest. This time I added a tangible reminder of the lessons of servant leadership. 

As I notice this item from time to time, it has not only reminded me of John Maxwell’s original lesson, but many additional valuable leadership qualities.  Discretely tucked away where only I will notice it, is this item:


I have replaced this a few times through the years, as one would get messed up or accidently thrown away.  The first one had only a big question mark drawn on it.  This is the current version.  What does an empty toilet paper tube have to teach us about leadership? Here are a few it reminds me of:

Remain Humble – Humble leaders inspire people.  Humble leaders are more approachable.  Humble leaders recognize they can learn from others.  A humble leader recognizes it is more important to surround himself with a team that collectively knows everything necessary, than to try to know everything himself.

Value People – There are no unimportant people.  Valuing people is the primary key to becoming a servant leader.  Choose to place a positive value on every team member.  I often remind my team: “You are the best team anywhere.” It is up to them to perform up to that definition. I have found, when I treat them like the best, the team performs like the best and usually surpass my expectations.

Serve Others – All positions in your organization are important. The ultimate purpose of any position is serving others. Servant leaders understand their job is to serve those they lead, not just their employers.  Regardless of your position in an organization, your ultimate job is always customer service.  Customers may be defined differently based on the role you fill.  As a leader, your primary customers are the people you lead.

Respect the Unpleasant – Whether you’re the CEO of a multi-national company or the guy that mucks the drainage pit, every job includes some unpleasant tasks.  Don’t allow the unpleasant tasks to define you, or define the individuals you lead.  Unpleasant tasks are just that, unpleasant tasks.  Respect the tasks for what they truly are, a valued service to the organization. When you find yourself in the middle of an unpleasant task, focus on the benefit completing that task provides.  Help the people you lead see the importance and benefit of the unpleasant tasks.  Always, show genuine appreciation when the unpleasant task is done well.

Finish the Job – The job is not finished if the paper work remains.  Jobs and projects contain many pleasant and sometimes unpleasant tasks.  No project is finished until the final task is complete, no matter how unpleasant.  Finish the job well.

Martin Luther King Jr.: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep so well that all the hosts of Heaven and Earth pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

That is exactly how leaders should embrace the role, as “Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed”.

There is one other personal reminder from the empty toilet paper tube:

“Life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end the faster it goes.” – Enjoy the Journey 

It’s your turn.  In the comments, share some of the unique items you have seen or used as a constant reminder and the lessons learned.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s