My children's elementary school, Providence Spring, has a tradition that involves fourth graders participating in Operation Sandwich for one week. Operation Sandwich is a program in Charlotte run by Urban Ministries that serves over 800 sandwiches each day to our homeless neighbors. After my middle son completed Operation Sandwich for his class, I talked to the other bus stop moms about the program. We decided that we could continue this monthly and rotate from house to house. We thought 100 sounded like a good amount of sandwiches to give our children the chance to do some good work for their community.
We invited every child within walking distance and taught them who they were giving the sandwiches to and how they needed to make each sandwich with a lot of love and care.
When December came, we had a hard time figuring out who would host because all of the holiday activities were filling up everyone's afternoons, but Mary stepped up. Her adult son would be visiting, and she figured this would be a good activity for the two of them to do together.
Mary did a little research and found out that our homeless neighbors loved egg salad sandwiches. So she figured, "Why not?" Do you know how many eggs are needed for 100 egg salad sandwiches? 150. That's right--150.
Undeterred, my neighbor started boiling eggs. Her son, Andrew, chopping celery and onion while she YouTubed the best way to peel 150 eggs. They tried method after method, and after breaking egg whites and tearing up their fingers, they found the best one: Using a spoon to peel the shell away from the boiled egg.
After they figured that out, they were off to the races! It took them all day to boil the eggs, cool them, prepare the egg salad, and assemble the sandwiches. But all the while, she and her son were talking, working together, and making memories.
When she told me this story, I kept wondering why our homeless neighbors would love egg salad. So I gave it some thought. Who makes egg salad? Mothers. When do they make it? For picnics on Sunday afternoons. With eggs and mayo involved, there must be a plan to keep it cool, so there's care involved.
There is also uniqueness. I would know my mother's egg salad in a blind taste test. She likes to sprinkle the top with paprika, and that spicy taste followed by creamy salad is what I think of when I think of egg salad. Other people use mustard, dijon or yellow. Some people put in relish; others put in finely chopped dill or chives, bacon, olives, or tomato. An egg salad sandwich reflects the maker as much as a person's laughter or signature. It tastes like home.
Think about how long it takes to make an egg salad compared to a ham sandwich. Forty-five minutes compared to three-five minutes.
Is it any wonder a homeless person would prefer an egg salad to a ham sandwich? One takes planning, time, care, and style. The other just takes a piece of meat, two slices of bread, and mayo or mustard.
So why am I spending so much time talking about egg salad sandwiches? Homeless people have so little choice in their everyday life. Where they will sleep, how they'll be treated, and what they will eat is all up to someone else. I often think of students walking onto campus the first time. They are so trusting and willing to believe that all adults will take care of them and help them become the person they can become. I believe that most people in schools intend to serve kids and make a difference in children's lives.
Like homeless people, there is so much that your staff and students cannot control, but when someone takes care of them, they blossom.
Egg salad your leadership, and you won't let a teacher have a schedule where there's no time for a bathroom break for three hours. So egg salad your leadership, and make sure that teachers know, like, and trust you.
Egg salad leadership is creative and caring. Egg salad leaders work with teachers as individuals. They don't work with them as if they were ham sandwich classroom placeholders.
Egg salad leadership is creative. When a problem arises, egg salad leaders put their spin on it. They collaborate with teachers or parents. Maybe they call in an expert. Perhaps they experiment with a few solutions before settling on the one that works just right, but just like my mom's paprika, the style is their own and identifiably unique.
Everything about egg salad leadership is intentional. Do you want just any old ingredient thrown into your egg salad? Me neither. It has to be egg, mayo, pickle, pepper, salt, paprika. There it is—no mystery or magic.
Jim Rohn, the master of human potential, said, "Success is never magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals."
You get to decide what those fundamentals are. John Maxwell says this about leadership: "Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. Leaders who are good navigators are capable of taking their people just about anywhere."
Where do you want to take your people? Now there are different egg salad sandwiches. Have you ever had a gas station egg salad sandwich? No? Me neither. Why? I don't trust a gas station owner to care enough about the eggs and the mayo. I'm willing to wait for excellent, and guess what? So are your teachers. They will not settle for gas station egg salad leadership. They want extraordinary. They want to be part of something special.
Your students do too. I remember those times that I felt as if I was somebody in school. I had plenty of egg salad teachers who knew me and pushed me to do my best.
My sixth-grade teacher taught us how to tell stories and the importance of details. She did this by giving us the assignment to make a marionette. I struggled with who I was going to make. I was going through a tough time. We had just moved there, and I knew I was moving the following year. So I didn't see the point of connecting with my peers.
My teacher noticed this and asked me to who I told my stories. I thought of my grandmother and my great aunts and great uncles. I spent most of my summers with them; I was one young girl surrounded by lots of elderly people. They loved my stories and always made me feel heard. I looked at my teacher and said, "My grandma. She loves my stories."
My teacher didn't hesitate. "Make her. Make a grandma, and let her tell your stories." So I did. Out of a pair of pantyhose, I crafted a marionette. It took hours to complete, and I'm not that crafty, but in the end, I had a grandma marionette that elicited "Awww..." from even the coolest kid in 6th grade.
It was that teacher taking the time with me, seeing my struggle, and wanting me to learn the connection to story. It was that teacher who made the difference. She was an egg salad teacher.
She wasn't the gas station teacher who gave us a worksheet to define the parts of a story. No, we built a storyteller and used the marionette to tell a story to the entire class. I found my voice, and I made a few friends in the process. Maybe she wanted me to learn more than just storytelling.
If you're not willing to take risks, you'll never reach extraordinary. Instead, you'll live with ordinary that you'd pass up like gas station egg salad sandwich if given the chance.
Simon Sinek is an author, speaker, and consultant who wrote the book, Find Your Why. Your why is who you are no matter what you do and wherever you go. He has developed many exercises to find your why. The easiest one is called the Friend Exercise. Simon Sinek would say that our why is the reason people love us. He has created the friend exercise.
The first step is to talk with people you love and those people who love you. He describes these people as the ones who would answer your call at 3 am, and you would answer their call at 3 am. Ask them, "Why are we friends?" They'll first say, "I don't know. You're smart. You're trustworthy. You're kind."
Sinek encourages us to play devil's advocate and say, "That's the definition of a friend, but why do you like me?"
They'll keep going with descriptions. "You make me laugh. You're loyal. We have fun together."
Push them, and say, "That's the definition of a best friend. But why is it that you like me so much?"
Eventually, they'll start to describe themselves. They'll talk about the value you bring to them in their lives. What they are describing, this is your why: the thing you give to the world. Now let's go back to egg salad leadership and ask a key question: Does your leadership match your why?
If you are not bringing your why to your leadership, it'll show.
When I asked my friends what it is about me they love so much, they all said a variation on this, "Katy, we can always count on you for fun and to take care of us. You don't care about what other people think. You care about your people, and you love hard." That hit me like a ton of bricks.
When I think about my leadership and where I failed as a school leader, I realize that I didn't always lead with my why. For the teachers and staff members who I had fun with and took care of, they are still with me. They still support me. But I didn't do that for everyone. I told myself I couldn't because I didn't have to. I couldn't because they “should just do their job.” I couldn't because I'd be interfering in their teaching lives.
But those were all lies.
When it's your why, you can do it effortlessly. I lied to myself, claiming to be too tired, too busy, it wasn't necessary. Consequently, those teachers nd staff members left me. I wasn't giving them the real me. I wasn't preparing the homemade egg salad. I was giving them gas station egg salad and expecting them to not only take it but to love it and to give their lives to it.
Are you giving your teachers, students, families, and staff your why? Are you caring for them in your unique way? It's not too late to start today. Egg salad your leadership and encourage your teachers to be egg salad teachers. Your school community will eat it up.
She’d love to hear from you!