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By Bob Fish

It’s as if we had forgotten that life can change in an instant. But we all remember now.

Michelle and I are as committed as ever to our mission, that by 2023, 50% of BIGGBY Coffee’s beans will be sourced directly from farmers who are treating the world and their people right. We firmly believe that we’ll be travelling again in pursuit of our goal.

But in the days since our last trip to Guatemala at the beginning of March (it seems like it was a year ago!), we’ve been engaged in a different, more existential kind of mission. Coffee shops, and retail in general, are on the front lines of the economic fallout from this pandemic. Our learning curve has had to be as steep as the graphs depicting the rate of infection. Together with our owner/operators, we have moved fast to adapt, to keep our operators, our baristas and our customers safe while still providing our services to our communities.

Bob Fish and Mike McFall Co-CEOs of BIGGBY Coffee
Bob Fish and Mike McFall, Co-CEOs of BIGGBY Coffee.

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a leader in a time of crisis.

I happen to be a leader with my business partner Mike McFall (thank goodness) of BIGGBY Nation. We have a lot of assistance and participation from our Owner Operators in our Franchise Community who are absolutely brilliant and amazing. But what I would say about life is that we are all leaders.

You might be a parent, or a brother/sister, or a friend, or a teacher, or pick whatever profession you want… you are probably a leader to somebody.

Confessions of a Leader

You will not always get it right… and it’s OK.

I had three super-major gaffs with a variety of constituencies just this week alone.

The one I want to focus on happened just yesterday in a Zoom Town Hall meeting in front our whole Franchise Community.

Somebody in the Town Hall questioned our Leadership and instead of listening with understanding and love (the very things we preach), all the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. All the ‘fright and flight’ chemicals rushed to my brain, and I became frustrated, defensive and pushed back aggressively. The exact opposite of what a leader should do in that moment.

The first thing to remember in that kind of challenge is that there might be something worth listening to in the words being spoken even if is not being well expressed. Second, you want to create an environment of challenge in your world, not stifle it. Otherwise you might never hear the truth. Third, you may be the only place that a person feels safe because you are there and available, so keep that door open. Fourth and related to the last one, their frustration may have nothing to do with you at all.

We often only see one dimension of a person’s life and we have no idea what their larger context is. Maybe their mother is sick and alone. Maybe their wife was just exposed to COVID-19. Or maybe their husband is a First Responder. The point is that whatever their context might be, maybe they are simply anxious and scared, and this might be the only way to express it.

Bob Fish with his family circa 2007
Michelle and Bob with their son, Dylan, circa 2007.

What a Gut Punch Taught Me

I learned this lesson almost 13 years ago when my son (who is actually my step son) came into my life at the age of 9. It was early in our relationship. When he came back from weekends at his Dad’s, one of the first things he used to do is punch me in the stomach. Almost every time. It didn’t hurt physically, but at the time it tore me up emotionally. Until two things dawned on me simultaneously. First, that our boy had so many uncontrolled frustrations in his life that he had no place to express them, verbally or otherwise. Second, that somehow, intuitively he knew that I was his safest place to express those frustrations. I have no idea how he knew that, but he did. All I did was show up, and made myself available, safe, and receptive. I stayed empathetic and Love was my driving force. And that is one small component of Leadership.

I didn’t get is right then on the first try, and I am still on a journey of getting it right for others today.

So, whether you are a President or CEO, a Manager or Supervisor, a Shift Leader or the person on the line. We know somebody is depending on your leadership. You’ll get it right most of the time for sure, and when someone wags a finger at you, take it with grace, forgive them, and then forgive you.

We all need you again, in the morning.

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