A commentary by Sharron Richardson, Vice President, Broker Services, EXIT Realty Corp. International

If I had to define a leader, I would say that a leader is more concerned about the success of the people around them than they are about themselves. They appreciate the value of each team member, and understand that those members, together, can do more than any one individual. A leader isn’t leading because they say they are, or have letters after their name, or inhabit the corner office. A leader is leading when their intentions and actions propel their team’s individual and collective best interests forward. They’re leading when they identify and remove roadblocks preventing the team’s individual and collective success. This doesn’t just apply to the business world. This applies to each of us in every environment. That’s because we’re each leaders of our own lives every minute of every day, and our team is comprised of the people around us at any given time, even if they’re complete strangers.

Enter the simple shopping cart, that unassuming vessel that exposes whether or not an individual is a leader or a psychopath. There is a social contract that states while we may not go out of our way to assist someone (net neutral effect), at the very least we should not behave in a way that actively impedes the lives of others (net negative effect), and that making a reasonable effort to assist is ideal (net positive effect). If an individual has made a conscious decision not to return their shopping cart to the store or cart corral, they fall into the second category. Creating a net negative effect demonstrates the opposite of leadership qualities. These selfish individuals are making a clear statement that their lives are more important than others; that they, somehow, are above having to fulfill the social contract that is basically keeping humankind from anarchy. We see you, entitled cart people, and we are not impressed.

If you’re looking to hire outside your circle, don’t spend time, money, and effort to solicit resumes. Just head to the nearest big box store and watch for those folks who diligently and efficiently return their carts to the store or cart corral. Let’s break down this barometer of the human psyche.

Leaves cart in empty parking spot. These people have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Selfish and self-important, their actions demonstrate laziness, and they’ve created an actual barrier to a positive shopping experience for others. They will not make good employees and certainly not good leaders.

Pushes cart to whatever convenient-to-them spot is nearest. Okay, they made a minimal effort. Perhaps they pushed their cart up against the store wall. They have, in effect, created an obstacle course for other shoppers trying to navigate the parking lot. Shopping isn’t supposed to be a tough mudder. As employees, they’ll cut corners when no one is looking. Certainly not suitable for leadership and will require a high degree of supervision as employees.

Pushes cart to corral but doesn’t secure it. These folks probably pad their resumes with skills they don’t have. These are the folks who, when approaching the corral and discovering it’s full, default to a defensive mindset. Rather than taking the extra time to push the cart back to the store, they determine that at least they tried and it’s not their fault the corral is full. They rest their cart against the metal strip and leave it. One big gust of wind and their cart is going to slowly gain momentum and crash into someone’s vehicle. They know this, but they’ll be long gone by the time that happens. These are “it’s not my problem” people. Enough said.

Pushes cart into corral and spends some time rearranging all the carts. These folks understand it’s their responsibility to push their cart to the corral or store. But they go beyond that. They take it upon themselves to organize the haphazard carts, thus creating order out of chaos. This makes it easier for others to then park their carts. These are desirable qualities, but they may not be able to step back far enough to see the big picture (like people waiting to park their carts while these folks work out a Tetris-like strategy to use the corral space efficiently). Great employee and management candidates, especially if they get their kids to help in a fun, spirited way.

Pushes cart to corral, spends a little time creating some order if necessary, and if the corral is full, pushes cart to another appropriate corral, or all the way back to the store. May take other abandoned carts as well. Says hello and thank you to the employee(s) working the corrals. Meet your leader. This individual understands it’s their responsibility to return the cart to an appropriate space in order to not create barriers for others. They spend some time creating order out of chaos if necessary but if it demands more time than their effort is worth, they will leave it to a qualified person (the corral employee) to sort out and move on to the next corral or back to the store. They will acknowledge the folks who work to keep this fragile system in balance. They will deftly navigate the parking lot full of people backing out without looking, give way to parents managing kids and strollers and carts, and assist folks in scooters and using walkers.

A leader simply makes experiences better for all around them because it’s in their nature to do so, without expectations of kudos or glory. They recognize that we’re all in this together–whether it’s the workplace or the world–and that it’s optimal to work together for the greater good of all.


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