Business Lessons From The Dinner Table, Part I

My wife was the first to acquaint me with the concept of business management fads that seem to permeate businesses, especially big businesses. She was a senior pricing analyst with one of the nation’s largest freight carriers, headquartered in Akron, Ohio. We were young, but she had already grown weary of the “theory du jour” (to use her words) that would be run up the company flagpole as the next best thing.

Some of the more popular fads that have come and gone would include Quality Circles, Business Process Reengineering, The Search for Excellence, Theory Z, and even Management by God. (I’m not sure why God would want to get involved in something as basic as business management, but apparently somebody did.)

Management fads come and go about as often as fashion changes. The same is true with business clichés and jargon and the words we use in daily life. But the one thing that has remained relatively unchanged over the years, in business and in life, are basic human values like trust, gratefulness, compassion, sharing, and looking out for others.

We may think the things we value in our personal lives don’t translate into the business world, but they do. We usually learned these values through daily interactions with our parents and siblings when we were kids. Often these interactions took place around the family dinner table.

Growing up in a mid-sized, Midwestern town, I was blessed with being the second of five children in a stable and loving middle-income family. While I didn’t know it at the time, I now realize that this upbringing gave me the space to learn important life lessons in a safe environment with relatively low hurdles to jump over.

At the same time, I don’t think the lessons I learned were unique to me or to my generation. I think they’re universal lessons that most of us grasp at some point.

In trying to engage a younger workforce or to retain an older one, I think we complicate business management. And I think that’s a mistake. Management success isn’t based on the latest fads or ever-changing business clichés. Instead, I believe it’s based on those fundamental values that most of us learned as kids and which we now rely on to guide us in our daily lives and businesses. This Notes series addresses seven lessons many of us learned during those interactions at the family dinner table and shows how to apply them to managing people of all generations. The seven lessons are:

  1. Show gratitude.
  2. Know what you stand for.
  3. Communicate.
  4. Put others first.
  5. Waste not.
  6. Do your job.
  7. Save your fork.

As I’ll illustrate over the next couple months, each of these values have practical and important applications when it comes to managing people in business, and they apply to workers of every generation.

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