Food For Thought

By Chuck Violand

April 9, 2018

Recently, I read about a retired 25-year Marine Corps and Army cook with a unique sense of mission—to boost the morale of soldiers. Floyd Lee chose to come out of retirement to run Pegasus, a mess hall in Iraq. Floyd said, “The good Lord gave me a second chance to feed soldiers. I’ve waited for this job all my life, and here I am in Baghdad.”

What makes Floyd’s story so compelling is what he did with a job that typically turns out food that is bland, overcooked, and prepared in mass quantities. He understood that an army marches on its stomach; that the typical day for a soldier can be brutal—long hours, excessive heat, and constant threat of physical harm. So, he decided to make a difference by doing what he could with what he had. Somehow, Lee was able to escape the gravitational pull of mediocrity and live a mission that inspired not only his customers but the people who reported to him as well.

Understand, I’m not somebody who usually gets too excited about company Mission Statements. Too often I find them little more than well-worded platitudes. They are framed, hung on walls, and promptly forgotten by everybody concerned. Yet, this is what I found so profound about Floyd’s “Mission Statement”— he was living it every day! Now that’s a Mission Statement everybody can get their heads around! That’s why his cooks didn’t just wear hair nets. They wore chef’s hats. That’s why his pastry chef described her desserts as “sensual.” That’s why they used linens on the tables. Everybody bought into the mission.

This is what a Mission Statement is supposed to do: inspire the people in the organization. It’s supposed to serve as a beacon to guide the daily actions of the people in the company. It should be the same with your company’s Mission Statement.

If a customer calls needing service in the middle of the night, the Mission Statement should remind the responder why he’s getting out of bed. If a customer is upset about something you feel is unreasonable, the Mission Statement reminds you why you’ll continue to treat this customer with dignity even when they’re not returning the favor.

When a business owner asks me if I’d like to read their Mission Statement, I’m more inclined, instead, to ask if I can talk with some of the people in their organization. The way these people talk about their customers, their coworkers, and why the company does what it does will ring truer than any fancy words etched on a plaque or written on the back of a business card.

Floyd Lee in Iraq had it right. He knew that cooking and serving food was his job, but improving the morale of war-weary soldiers was his mission. He couldn’t affect their pay, change their rank, improve their equipment, or get them home to their families any sooner. But he could make them feel better for that small sliver of time they spent in his mess hall. And, so can each one of us, in our own specific ways, guided by our own company’s missions.

Thanks, Floyd. I appreciate your inspiration.