Potluck meals have been around for centuries and go by many different names (smorgasbord, covered dish, etc), but the concept is basically the same – everyone brings a dish to share with everyone else. The payoff with a potluck is that you get to try many different items in exchange for contributing one of your own. It’s sharing the labor as well as bounty. Plus, you get to enjoy the company of others. You can learn so much about people, too. The way you participate in a potluck can say quite a bit about how you participate in other areas of life. When it comes to potlucks or business or life, what do you bring to the table?
Do you eagerly participate in a potluck, happily creating your best dish and eagerly awaiting to hear the feedback from others?
Do you organize the entire thing, agonize over the details and get so stressed that by potluck time all you want is a quiet room and a nap?
Do you take tiny samples of everything only to criticize every dish as too salty, overcooked, undercooked, or just plain awful?
Do you enjoy attending a potluck but never bring a dish yourself because you’re too busy or you can’t cook or there’ll be plenty of food anyway?
Watching a group host a potluck is quite a learning experience. People tend to respond to a potluck the way they respond to life in general. You get a pretty good mix of participants, freeloaders and grumblers. In business, this can be very telling. The next time you attend or host a potluck at work, take a look at how people participate and see if there are similarities in their work behaviors. You might find some of the following:
Ms. Potluck Queen: She is the organizer, the delegator, the one who spearheads the entire event. Ms. Potluck Queen is a natural-born leader. Regardless of her position at work, she is likely a go-to gal. She can get on a bit of a martyr trip or just plain wear herself out trying to do everything for everyone.
Ms. Whatever: She will participate but don’t expect her to love it. You have to tell her exactly what to bring and she will do that and nothing more. This is the way she works, too. She is competent enough to keep her job and will do whatever is asked, but just barely.
Mr. Bag of Chips: He won’t cook or can’t cook but shows up with a bag of chips or an opened two-liter of Sprite and then pigs out on everything else. He works like this, too, always giving the bare minimum and yet feeding off everyone else’s contributions.
Ms. “I can make this better”: She brings a great dish, but she’s a gourmet and everyone else is an amateur. “Oh, you should have added roasted red peppers, they would have made this potato salad awesome.” Pray that she’s not the boss because nothing is ever as good as she can do it herself.
Ms. Incompetent: No matter what she brings, it really is awful. It’s burned or raw; unseasoned or so spicy nobody can eat a bite. She doesn’t know why. She’s the one whose work really just makes double work for someone else. Her resume is full of short-term jobs.
Mr. “I didn’t know”: Despite numerous emails and sign-up sheets, this guy shows up empty-handed claiming he had no idea it was potluck day. Sure, he’ll grab a plate, thanks for asking. Next time, let him know and he’ll bring something. Oh, sure he will. Excuses are second-nature to this dude.
The most successful businesses, like successful potlucks, require the full, authentic participation of everyone. Learning to get the most from others is an essential leadership skill. The successful leader learns the skills and talents of her group and matches them to the task.
The successful person knows her own strengths and weaknesses and is always working on maximizing what she does best and contributing the most she can. Successful people realize that they have to bring their best to the table and they enjoy celebrating the success of others as well.
What about you? Do you know what you bring to the table? Do you know what you are really good at and what needs working on? Are you cooking your own dish or too busy stirring everyone else’s pot? Not just in business, but in life in general? Because after all, life and business are very much like a potluck. If all you bring to the table is a lousy bag of chips, don’t be surprised if all you get in return is the crumbs.
In addition to sharpening your talents, do yourself a favor and learn at least one excellent potluck recipe and wow your coworkers, fellow church members, your family at Thanksgiving and most of all, yourself.