Cultivating the Leaders of Tomorrow

Training employees to accept responsibility when they stumble will help groom the next generation of industry executives.

By Jim Callahan.

My wife called me one morning this week with a quote that gave us both pause to stop and think: “When you stumble, make it part of the dance.” I took some time to analyze this quote and how it applies to our everyday lives running convenience stores. When dealing with younger employees, there is always a steep learning curve. While we want our employees to be perfect, the more realistic expectation is to take their growth in stride and mentor them along as they mature and grow into our expectations.

But this doesn’t apply just to new and younger employees. There is no denying that from time to time we all stumble, stagger or fall in the daily pursuit of excellence. That is merely part of the game. What matters most is how we handle things after stumbling.

For example, people sometimes miss deadlines because they simply forget. It happens to all of us, and it’s merely part of being human in a busy society. But what is troubling is when your employees—and even yourself—start making excuses. We all have to do a better job of owning up to our errors.

One of the most humorous excuses I’ve ever heard was from one of our young bookkeepers who was late for an important meeting one morning. He concocted a story that involved his pet ferret chewing through the cord on his electric clock. The jokes followed him for months. After having some time to reflect on the matter, he would have been much wiser to own up to it right away and say something like, “I’m sorry I overslept. I’ll stay and make up the time and will try not to let it happen again.”

Had he done so the matter would have been closed right there, but, as they say, the cover up is actually worse than then the crime.

Leading by Example
From time to time all of us are going to miss a bit of work, but it does seem a bit curious that most veterans of the c-store wars miss much less work than the vast majority of recent high school and college graduates—despite our assorted collection of ailments. That is not the attitude we should accept, much less encourage with today’s younger generation. They should be eager to prove their worth to ascend into the leadership positions of tomorrow. In fact, it’s our responsibility to train them to eschew these nonsensical excuses and to seize a leadership role.

The great majority of employers across the convenience store industry were once c-store employees—no doubt overachieving employees who did not make excuses when they stumbled. They understand that mistakes happen and that employees are not always perfect. Accordingly, they would much rather lead a team of players that is willing to accept responsibility and learn from it rather than oversee a collection of employees that tries to hide behind excuses.

As part of my training with employees I like to explain that convenience stores are a veritable emergency room for commuters, local residents and truckers traveling from state to state. Cashiers are every bit as noble as a nurse, orderly or doctor in a hospital or emergency room. Think about this—I mean really think about the warmth and comfort your stores and employees provide these customers in their time of need. Taking care of customers is a tough, but rewarding—and profitable—proposition. As part of the service industry we have to be there when the people need us. More over, customers don’t just expect us to be open they expect great service, not excuses. What they get when they enter your stores is entirely up to you.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at


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