A grandfather of a friend came to America from Eastern Europe. After being processed at Ellis Island, he went into a cafeteria in lower Manhattan. He sat down at an empty table and waited for someone to take his order. Of course nobody did. Finally, a woman with a tray full of food sat down opposite him and informed him how a cafeteria worked.

“Start out at that end,” she said. “Just go along the line and pick out what you want. At the other end, they’ll tell you how much you have to pay.”

“I soon learned that’s how everything works in America,” the grandfather told my friend. “Life’s a cafeteria. You can get anything you want as long as you are willing to pay the price. You can even get success, but you’ll never get it if you wait for someone to bring it to you. You have to get up and get it yourself.”

Excellent leadership is not just about investing in others. It’s also about investing in yourself. Today more than ever, there is a cafeteria of learning available to us…and it’s filled with the food of excellence.

Your life is your own learning lab.  Find best practices everywhere. Watch the people around you.  You will see nuggets of excellence from a mother-in-law, a pastor, a speaker at a professional association meeting, a fellow leader, our child’s school principal, a Boy Scout’s troop leader or a particularly helpful salesperson at a local department store.

Observe, read, ask, listen and learn.

There are also lessons to be learned in everything your team does. Look for opportunities in post-project reviews, customer meetings, conflicts with other departments, changes in priorities, miscommunications and mistakes.

It’s all there for you in life’s cafeteria… you just have to be willing to pay the price.


Check out 7 Moments… that Define Excellent Leaders.