Early in my career, lunch time became my favorite time of day. It wasn’t because of the food for you see we were eating hospital cafeteria food. Each day I looked forward lunch because many of our senior leaders and managers took time out of their schedule to eat lunch and enjoy conversations with each other. I doubt it happens often where you work today.

As a young manager, I loved those lunches and soaked up every minute because I got to be with our CFO, the VP of Nursing, the Controller, the Assistant Director of Nursing and other leaders who chose to eat that day. The conversations were about life, i.e., family, sports, movies, current events, etc., not necessarily about work, although we occasionally talked about our work. Sometimes we pulled together multiple tables to make a long table, so long that there were multiple conversations going on at different parts of the table.

I learned two important lessons during those lunches that are important today.

  1. Leaders are human – As I listened at the lunch table, I realized the leaders I was sharing a meal with were humans just like me. They were anything but perfect. They let their guard down with everyone and shared stories about their family, kids, parents, and careers. Often someone would share a story about an early career or parenting failure and laughed at themselves as they told it. That always led to someone else sharing a similar story, laughing at themselves too. I realized that while each leader was very good at what they did professionally, they were far from perfect, which was good to know because I didn’t always feel perfect as a young leader. They also learned something from every failure or mistake they shared. Today we would say our leaders were being “vulnerable”, but I prefer to think they were just being themselves; they were human.

This is true for everyone, but especially important for leaders and not something most leaders do well. Too often leaders believe they are expected to have all the answers and project an intimidating image like the Wizard of OZ, which you might remember from the movie was the all-knowing and all-powerful. Leaders who do make themselves unapproachable, the opposite of what you want and need. Showing you are human makes you less intimidating and easier to ask questions.

  1. Mealtimes help relationship building – Sharing a meal is a great time to build a relationship with staff and peers. It’s less formal and far more personal. Barriers that normally exist seem to go away during a meal, creating a path to really get to know someone better. When we know each other, we build safety with each other, which becomes important when working through problems together. When we know each other, we’re less defensive in answering questions and dealing with conflict. Try periodically sharing a meal or “cup of coffee” with each of your peers to build and strengthen your relationships.

A meal can also be an excellent opportunity to have a hard conversation or deliver a difficult message. Doing it off site gets you away from where everyone is watching, and you can both be real with each other.

Being yourself, being human, is the best way to build relationships. Enjoy being real.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12: 9

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