Kudos to Wilma at Burger King

By: Jan Bolick
October 12, 2010

Burger KingHere’s a story for Discover a Different Boss Week (our linked celebrations of Columbus Day and Boss Day).

When I was 15 years old, I went to work at Burger King.   Wilma was one of my bosses. 

It was easy to make burgers, fries and fountain drinks.

I was also pretty fast at bagging up the orders.

But I was challenged by strawberry milkshakes.   I had no problems with the first two steps which were to pour one scoop of strawberry syrup into the bottom of a cup and then fill it with vanilla milkshake.    The third step was to stick the cup under a mixer and pull it back up “just so”.  The first three times, I did it wrong and strawberry milkshake spattered everywhere.

My solution to all of this was to avoid making strawberry milkshakes which was fairly easy to do since not many people ordered them.   But if I was working the drink station when someone did order one, it seems I always had an emergency of some type (like a run to the rest room) that caused me to pull in a quick substitute for the drink station.

Then one very busy afternoon at the drink station, something terrible happened.

Wilma was working the front window, taking orders and she yelled into the microphone as she did with all orders, “4 whoppers,  4 cheeseburgers, 7  fries…”  She then  turned, looked at me and said, “…and 13 strawberry milkshakes.”

She saw the look of panic on  my face.    She read the thoughts racing through  my head about how I was going to escape, pointed at me and then at the monster machine as she said firmly, “Jan, 13 strawberry milkshakes.”

I did as I was told.   Made one strawberry milkshake without making a mess.   Then another.  And another.  As I was getting ready to make the fourth one, Wilma said, “Just kidding!”  And then broke out into a wide grin.

It was the first time I had ever seen tough, gruff, no nonsense Wilma ever smile.

I looked at her in disbelief.  Was she really just kidding about the 13 milkshakes?  Was I really done with just 3?   Was she really smiling and joking with me?  And was it that obvious that I was scared of making strawberry milkshakes?

Yes to all four questions.  But not any more on the last one!   Thanks to Wilma – I became a strawberry milkshake expert! 

And I saw her as a different boss.  A fun and funny person who really cared about those of us who worked there.

Several things inspire me about  what Wilma did:

  1. Her push to make me face my fear of making strawberry milkshakes took no more than 5 minutes.
  2. It gave me a tool to use any time I get stuck or scared to the point of avoiding what needs to be done.
  3. It gave me a tool to use whenever I’m coaching others.  
  4. It gave me a story to share with other coaches and managers, which in turn gives them a tool to use.
  5. It has served as a frequent reminder that when people aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing, it might not be because they are slack or lazy or some other adjective used to describe lack of performance.  Instead of letting them “escape” from the work or  writing them up or dismissing them from the job, what about doing something different? 
  6. All of this from a 5 minute encounter that took place almost 40  years ago.

Is there some small 5-minute Wilma like action that you could take this week?    Something that would help someone on your team overcome fear or reluctance to do part of her job?  

Do it and you become a different boss – through her eyes and yours.   And she becomes a different worker. 

That is what I call making a difference. 

Questions for thought and/or discussion:

  1. Are you allowing someone to get away with not doing their job completely?
  2. Are you filling in the gaps because it’s easier that way?
  3. Or because you don’t want conflict?
  4. Or because don’t want him/her to feel bad?
  5. Or because the person is slack or lazy or incompetent but you don’t have time to replace him/her?
  6. What about you?   Why are you avoiding your job as his or her coach?
  7. Is it because you are slack or lazy or incompetent?
  8. Assume for just a few minutes that #5 is not true.  Is there some small 5-minute Wilma like action that you could take this week?    Something that would help someone on your team overcome fear or reluctance to do part of her job?   Do it and you become a different boss – through her eyes and yours.   And she becomes a different worker.  One who is stilling telling about it 40 years later.   Now THAT is what I call making a difference.

Do you have any inspirational boss stories? 

Please share them with us below.  There are so many bosses and so many styles – we can learn so much from them all!

copyright 2010

 Jan Bolick 

Jan is a coach, teacher, speaker and author who is passionate about performance management and corporate culture.

Her coaching specialty is working with women in leadership to take charge more effectively, make things happen and inspire others to do the same.

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