I am headed to Kansas City tomorrow for a speaking engagement on Monday. I’m honored to be speaking to the food service team at a KC metro area school district. This week as I’ve been finalizing my presentation, I’ve learned more about food service in school districts than I ever imagined I ever would. There is a fascinating history around how school food service even got started. Fun fact: President Harry S. Truman President signed the National School Lunch Act, which created the National School Lunch Program. In a post-World War II America, President Truman and Congress intended the bill to help absorb new farm surpluses. I am sure I am not alone when I say I wish we were still seeing big farm surpluses. But the school lunch program is not the reason for this post, or as it turns out, it is not the main reason I’m speaking to this team.
I’m speaking to the team to make sure they know that what they do everyday matters. They may not see the impact they are having, but every day they serve the students in their schools they are making an investment. The epiphany I had while preparing for this talk was how my own development was impacted by someone taking an interest in me and investing in me, and how that changed the arc of my story and the narrative of my entire life. What I want these leaders to know, and every leader I interact with to know, is that they have an opportunity everyday, with every person they work with to potentially change their lives. They can help a student change their narrative and completely change the arc of their life story. It happened to me many years ago.
My career started in 1984 at McDonald’s, and as a student who was extremely introverted and struggled with a stutter, I didn’t have a lot of bright prospects and certainly didn’t know what path I wanted to take as I made my way through high school. But I showed up, worked hard, and did my best. On one night shift that I worked it was raining hard and it was very slow. The manager on duty, Brenda, told me she wanted me to work on front counter. I was terrified but she promised she would back me up and help me do it, and she did. I remember being so proud and excited as I road my bike home after my shift! I couldn’t wait to tell my mom that I worked front counter and talked to guests. It was a big deal to me and it was the first time someone invested in me as a leader. In 1985 as my shift was winding down, my General Manager Wanda stopped me and told me she thought I had potential to be a leader and I couldn’t believe it. I certainly didn’t see it, but she did so she gave me a Management Development Program book and before I knew it I was an hourly manager and then a salaried manager at 18 years old.
These experiences literally changed the course of my life. My story arc changed during those two conversations and I can’t imagine where I’d be today without someone believing in me. I’m a leader today because someone told me I could be, and that has become a hugely powerful narrative in my life. So as I work with leaders in my new role I want to challenge them to help others change their story arc and write a new narrative.
For this school food service team, I want them to know that the quality of the human connection they make with every student is what opens the door to being able to invest in their lives, and maybe change the story arc of their lives, and by doing that they might just be the catalyst to help these students change the world.