Author’s note: A while ago, when I began my coaching business, I started making a list of those people that influenced me. But a list alone isn’t compelling enough so I wanted to do a deeper dive into each of my influences to share HOW they influenced me, my personal development, and my coaching. Enjoy!
My family introduced me to Zingerman’s Deli a few years ago and I made it a tradition to stop by there and do a pilgrimage each time I made it to Ann Arbor, which admittedly wasn’t that often. Zingerman’s prides itself on high quality of food, unique and local variations of regional and international cuisine, and high standards for customer service. So, when a work trip with a couple colleagues necessitated a visit a few years ago, I made a reservation for the three of us at Zingerman’s Roadhouse.
Zingerman’s Roadhouse is a sit-down outpost of the Deli. More down-home American classics than traditional deli fare, but perfect for an introduction to the quality of food and service that Zingerman’s was known for. And it didn’t disappoint.
Our server was attentive and thoughtful, even using her own body to demonstrate what part of the cow the steak I was interested in was from. Our water glasses were refilled with regularity. Our plates cleaned of every last morsel.
We had a professional development budget to buy the books or attend the conferences that we wanted. Ari Weinzweig, the CEO of Zingerman’s, had written several and I convinced my colleagues that we should each get his books so our server dropped off a stack of 9 thick hardback books on the table as I polished off the remains of the donut ice cream sundae that marked the end of our meal.
And then, the water guy sidled up to our booth, sat down, opened the first book (Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part I: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business), and started signing them. My colleagues and I all looked incredulously at each other.
“Are you Ari?” as if that wasn’t already self-evident.
“Yes, welcome to Zingerman’s! I hope you enjoyed your meal.”
“We did! But weren’t you just filling our water?”
“I was. That’s Secret 25: Managing by pouring water.”
We opened the book to that chapter and indeed, there it was, Secret 25, Managing by pouring water. Turns out that every week, Ari works at the Roadhouse one evening so that he can check in with the team, get an eye on operations, and interact with the customers. So that he doesn’t just sit around making everyone uncomfortable while he observes what’s going on, in the spirit of servant leadership, he identified a job that he could do that would be valuable to the guests and the team, but also could be covered by others should he be out of town. He settled on refilling the water glasses.
I have to admit that this was a pretty good party trick and clearly, we weren’t the first people he had pulled it on. But more than that, I was impressed with his dedication to his craft, to his team, to his customers.
So began a deep dive into the history of Zingerman’s Deli and it’s growth from a small delicatessen into a community of businesses–all in the Ann Arbor area–that support each other. Beyond the Deli and Roadhouse, they also have a mail order business, coffee shop, coffee roastery, candy manufactory, bakehouse, training company, Korean restaurant, farm, creamery, mail order, event space, and food tours. As I dug into Zingerman’s, I also explored all of the many writings of Ari Weinzweig. There have been so many inspirational parts of his work that have influenced my own personal development as well as my coaching. Here are just a few:
- “Don’t get furious, get curious” as a reminder to dig into the root causes of what angers you and to dig underneath the immediate emotion.
- If feeling lousy, find three people to thank. Gratitude changes your perspective pretty quickly.
- Knowing and accepting what is “enough.” This one deserves an essay all on its own but recognizing what constitutes enough (money, fame, external validation, rest, etc.) will change your life.
- The art of giving excellent customer service. It’s not enough to simply provide good customer service once, you have to have an underlying philosophy and the processes in place to make it a consistent reality.
- The power of visioning. This one also deserves an essay of its own, but I’ve found that creating a compelling vision of a future state that I want has changed my life.
Ari’s influence on me is not limited to the content of his writing. I also appreciate the vulnerability and thoughtfulness that permeates it. He clearly spends a great deal of time thinking and reflecting, also skills that I desire to practice more. The voluminousness of his writing also inspires me. He produces so much great content that I’m amazed he has time for anything else, let alone helping to run a multi-million dollar organization.
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