The Steak Dinner & A Lesson In Courage

I know what you’re thinking. What in all of the hell could that title possibly mean? I know, I know. What’s crazy about the story I am about to share is that it happened almost 5 back and I just finally picked the lesson out of it 2 weeks ago. Isn’t it insane how our minds work? What I actually mean is, isn’t it insane how our minds work once we learn to reflect?

Here’s how it all went down:

My first job out of college was in a factory, as a production supervisor overseeing all of the employees who run the lines. It was a hard role for a few reasons.

  1. I had no idea how to manage people, what motivated them, what they hated, how to read the team, etc. (5 years later and the only thing I have learned about managing a team is that it is difficult)
  2. The factory was in commissioning which means that the lines were brand new and we were just learning how to run them.
  3. I was literally just months out of college and I didn’t even know who I was let alone how to conduct myself properly to get the outcome I wanted (Still working on this by the way)

Just picture this: 22 year old who barely knows how to keep the peace leading a team of approx 40 people who are still unfamiliar with the lines they are trying to work. Overall, it was just a recipe for a bad time and saying morale was low was probably the understatement of the decade. In an effort to combat the low morale and increase productivity, our manager put out a challenge. The challenge basically boiled down to whichever shift can hit a specific line efficiency percentage would get a steak dinner for everyone on the shift.

Weeks went by and no one even got close. Until one night, things were actually going right for us. I remember being extremely on edge and suspicious of what was happening because I had never seen all the lines run at the same time. There was always at least 1 line down at any given point in the night. But, the team did it. They somehow managed to pull 40% efficiency out of their butt and they were all so happy. I had never seen them so fired up! They were walking off the shift stopping by my office to let me know how excited they were for the steak dinner, it was so awesome.

The next day for our team meeting with the department manager I said “We can’t wait for that steak dinner” when he asked for other business for the meeting agenda. He simply replied back “Yeah, no, that’s not going to happen”. I honestly had no idea what was happening and ended up replying back “What do you mean? that’s bullshit!” Again – remember I was 22 and just could not conduct myself properly but it really was bullshit. Now, I can’t stress enough how inappropriate his reply back to me was and if this ever happens to you guys at work, you should take a serious stand and this should be escalated. He said “I can’t believe you’re this f***king stupid”. I LOST it. Partially because I did not take well to the way he talked to me but mostly because I was SO disappointed for my team and I knew this was just the wrong move if we truly wanted to raise morale. But, he wasn’t budging and I just ended up feeling like absolute garbage. The worst part was, I had to look at my team and tell them it just wasn’t going to happen and I had no explanation for them.

I imagined the team being so disappointed in me for not being able to get this secured for them and I carried the burden of how much that would backslide all the progress we had made. Instead, the team was thanking me for standing up for them. I was so confused how they even found out what happened during the meeting. Turns out one of the team members that were in the room relayed it to the shift lead who worked with me and it spread from there. I was still so disappointed in the fact that they didn’t get the steak dinner that I missed the whole lesson here.

Courage does not feel good. Not always, at least. In this case I left the meeting defeated, disappointed and honestly enraged and frustrated. But, my team recognized my courage and appreciated me as a leader for it. I always thought that whenever I acted in a courageous way, it would feel amazing. I would have light coming out of me or a spotlight on me or something grand and heroic. But I felt like crap. Until I reflected on the situation and really thought about the fact that even though I didn’t recognize it at the time, this was a turning point for my team and I. This was when they started to trust me, this was when they truly felt like I was going to go to bat for them when I believed it was right.

Don’t be courageous because it will make you feel like a good person, or because you think it will end up working out positively for you in the end. Be courageous because it is the right thing to do. When it feels like it is you against the world, be courageous. When it feels like it will never get better, be courageous. When you feel like it will haunt you if you don’t, be courageous.