Leadership Lessons from a Parisian Greengrocer

I recently had a conversation that illustrated the energizing power of pride.

At a charity event I attended recently, I found myself in conversation with an executive who had spent part of his career living in Paris. When I asked him what stood out from his time there, he mentioned getting chastised by a greengrocer at the local market.

On one of his first visits, he started picking choice fruits and vegetables from the stands the way he always had at home. The greengrocer was not amused, and he quickly retrieved the produce and put it back where it belonged on the display. The executive, a little mystified, pulled out his best French and asked for the produce he wanted. The greengrocer proceeded to question him about what he was planning to use it for and when.

That’s when the executive realized that this greengrocer was a master tradesman: he was assessing the needs of his customer and providing the very best produce for the purpose – very ripe if you’re using it today, less ripe if you’re using it next week. How much pride do you think that greengrocer felt in his work? How engaged do you think he was?

That is pride in action, and it’s an energizer. So how can we learn from the greengrocer and instill pride in our team members? In Drive, Dan Pink suggests that motivation comes from a combination of autonomy, mastery and purpose.  So building on those ideas, try any of the following:

1. Autonomy: give your team a clear understanding of the result you want, and let them figure out how best to achieve it, knowing their own strengths and abilities. Stay close and be available for check-ins and consultation.
2. Mastery: allocate work so that each member has an opportunity to become expert at something. This does not preclude cross-training and backing each other up, but make sure that each person gets the training and/or experience to truly become expert in at least one aspect of your business.
3. Purpose: have a clear sense of purpose for your business and talk about it with your team. Make sure they understand the impact their work has on you, your clients and your stakeholders.

Imagine what you could accomplish with a team that took as much pride in your business as you do!