One Sunday afternoon, I’m at the grocery store (we’ll make up a name like Bob’s Country Store) and I walk up to the deli counter. I normally order the deli meat that is on sale, which happened to be the chipotle chicken breast. They had just run out of the chipotle chicken breast, but they did still have the blazing buffalo breast. I asked the lady working the counter if I could get the blazing buffalo for the same price as the advertised chipotle chicken. (After all, how different could the chipotle chicken be from the blazing buffalo?)  She said, “Sorry, no can do.”

Fast forward a couple of days later and I’m at my favorite grocery store, Trader Joe’s.  I can already feel your judgment of me, you can stop that now… So I go to grab my favorite peanut butter and it’s not there. Oh the despair! So I ask the friendly woman holding the question mark sign about the peanut butter. She went to check the back and said that they have some, but it’s buried under other items and she’ll have to unbox all the items on top of it before she can get to it. I told her not to worry about it, but she was insistent upon helping me. (She must have seen the desperation for peanut butter on my face…)

I believe the difference between Bob’s and Joe’s comes down to one word: Empowerment.  Sure, there are huge leadership and cultural factors in play here, each store on one side of the pendulum. But those factors contribute largely to the degree of empowerment it’s employees have. How easy would it have been for the lady holding the question mark sign to say that they don’t have any more peanut butter? Yep, about as easy as the lady at Bob’s telling me “no can do.”

I honestly believe Bob didn’t give his employees the authority and autonomy to give me 50 cents off for the blazing buffalo breast. The woman operated from a very linear prospective.  In her mind, only the chipotle chicken breast is on sale. If there is no chipotle chicken then there is no sale. He didn’t empower his employees to make those kinds of decisions. The kinds of decisions that either keep customers shopping at your store or sends them somewhere else.

Not only does Joe have employees carry question mark signs, he has empowered employees to go the extra mile for customers.

Great leaders find what their people love, and leverage that passion to transform culture and their work. Empowerment wins over compliance every time. Peanut butter wins every time as well.

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