The following is a true story…
In a land far, far away (Yakima, Washington), I was riding high. My youth ministry was the biggest thing in town and we were on the verge of launching another service at Central Washington University. I had several employees working for me and a crazy band of leaders who would do just about anything for the cause.
Great things were happening. We were making a difference in the lives of young people and it was having an impact on our city.
Also, I was full of myself. I felt successful and was enjoying being the top dog of my own little empire.
People looked to me for answers. I was the wise one. And there was a clear chain of command, which led like rivers to the ocean. The ocean was me.
So… one night, I had a dinner meeting with my band of crazy leaders and employees. We ate at a fun little pizza place downtown. After the meal, I gave my loyal assistant my credit card and told her to pay the bill. As she walked away on her assigned mission, I said, “Put a 15 percent tip on there.”
She slowed down, paused, and turned to look at me – as if for assurance. She looked me in the eye and said, “OK.”
Later that evening, she brought the credit card and receipt to me. I put the card in my wallet and took a look at the receipt.
And I cannot believe what I see…
The bill was for $229.70. She tipped $114.85.
My mouth dropped. As I look at her with my crazed “what the heck?” face, she says, “You said put a 50 percent tip on there… right?”
Now I understand what happened. I shake my head, now smirking, and say, “No, I said FIFTEEN. Not FIFTY.”
My assistant loses all color in her face. She looks crushed – like she just ran over a puppy with her car. She says, “I’ll go explain the mistake and ask them to correct it. Can I have your card back?”
At this point, I’m feeling amused by the whole thing. I don’t want the server, who is probably doing the happy dance in the kitchen, to get this unusual blessing stripped away. So I smile and say, “No, it’s OK. It’s not a terrible thing for a big church group to bless the waitress with a huge tip.”
But there was another reason why I wasn’t upset about the $114.85 tip…
I liked that she didn’t question me.
She just did what she thought she heard me say, even though it seemed outlandish in her mind. This was a sign of unwavering loyalty. My crazy band of leaders didn’t question me – they just took my orders. Shoot, they’d probably march off a cliff if I told them to.
Looking back, I realize how much I loved being unquestionable. The great and wise leader. The visionary who spoke for God.
Here’s what I realize now: in leadership, not being able to be questioned is a costly mistake.
I no longer want to be unquestionable – mostly because I have come to terms with the fact that I’m not that amazing or smart or trustworthy. And sometimes people hear something different than what I was trying to say.
My new mantra is this: questions are good.
Questions aren’t a leader’s kryptonite. Maybe the lack of questions are.
The truth is, being open for questioning is an exercise in humility. It can feel like that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls back the curtain to expose the man behind it – just an average, middle-aged man who is nothing like the great wizard being projected on the big screen.
I guess I’d rather keep the curtain open. I don’t want to be part of a system or structure that doesn’t take questions.
That $114.85 tip on a pizza dinner eventually turned out to be a pretty good deal for me, an important lesson: questions are good.