Friday, August 14, 2009

The Lesson of the 38 Candy Bars

Many lessons in the corporate world can be applied to everyday living and vice versa.

Here's an interesting article, an interview actually, on management, i.e., some management tips, if you will, which I read on the New York Times. I'm borrowing a part of it verbatim and if you find it interesting, here is where you can read the entire interview with Gary E. McCullough, president and chief executive of the Career Education Corporation.

Q. What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned?

A. The biggest one I learned, and I learned it early on in my tenure in the Army, is the importance of small gestures. As you become more senior, those small gestures and little things become sometimes more important than the grand ones. Little things like saying “please” and “thank you” — just the basic respect that people are due, or sending personal notes. I spend a lot of time sending personal notes.

I’ll never forget one of the interactions we had with my commanding general of the division in which I was a platoon leader. We were at Fort Bragg, N.C. We had miserable weather. It was February and not as warm as you would think it would be in North Carolina. It had been raining for about a week, and the commanding general came around to review some of the platoons in the field. He went to one of my vehicle drivers and he asked him what he thought of the exercise we were on. To which the young private said, “Sir, it stinks.” I saw my short career flash before my eyes at that point.

He asked why, and the private said: “There are people who think this is great weather for doing infantry operations. I personally think 75 and partly cloudy is better.”

And so the commanding general said, “What can I do to make it better for you?” And the private said, “Sir, I sure could use a Snickers bar.” So a couple days later we were still moving through some really lousy weather, and a box showed up for the private. And that box was filled with 38 Snickers bars, which is the number of people in my platoon. And there was a handwritten note from the commanding general of our division that said, “I can’t do anything about the weather, but I hope this makes your day a bit brighter, and please share these with your buddies.”

And on that day, at that time, we would’ve followed that general anywhere. It was a very small thing, and he didn’t need to do it, but it impressed upon me that small gestures are hugely important.

Source: New York Times


  1. Anonymous11:57 AM

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful story. Sad reality is how many of those up there think like that or would do something like that. Most would just treat their subordinates as a means to an end. In all my years of working, I have yet to meet one person up there who's like that. I am not saying everyone who's somewhere up in the corporate ladder are bad people. Just that how many people would really appreciate those who work under them.

    There's a Chinese saying that goes "keen kou cau pai, keen tai cau yai" meaning looking at those above you, you praise/flatter/idolise, looking at those beneath you, you step down on them.

  2. Anonymous2:31 PM

    coming from a commanding general that's one of a kind but really sweet. I hope all leaders will learn to emulate this small act of kindness to his subordinates. And everyone will follow.

    BTW, thank you for the greetings. I miss visitng your blog. Hope everything is doing ok. :)

  3. Mei Teng, Malaysian work culture is a lot different from that of overseas. Generally, we do have a long way to go.

    Rej, you are welcome. Hope you are doing as well as can be.

    Sometimes, it takes very little to make someone's day, eh?

  4. Some people would kill for a Snickers bar. (sorry, dark humor, I know).