Lessons Learned From Picking Up Cigarette Butts


(By Rick Fink) In his book The Difference, Subir Chowdhury tells the story of how a CEO was concerned that his company received a poor rating for initial quality by JD Power and Associates. The CEO asked Subir what he does with a toothpick after using it. Subir replied he would throw it in the trash. The concern of the CEO was that he found a toothpick lying on the floor of his office building and related this lack of respect to the poor-quality rating his company recently received in a JD Power survey.

I too learned a valuable lesson like this very early in my professional career that I share with many of the managers, media reps, and business owners I consult with. It’s one of the little things that can and will make a great difference.

Our radio station was next door to a convenience store, so you can imagine the amount of small trash that littered their parking lot. When the wind blew, their litter became our litter. In this case, One man’s trash is not another man’s treasure. More often than not, when our GM would park his vehicle in the lot, he would walk around and pick up the unwanted garbage from our nice neighbors before entering the building. He did what great leaders do: he led by example. It was common practice to see him pick up discarded cigarette butts, napkins, straws, cups, etc. Never once did he ever ask or even suggest any of his employees help in picking up the trash. Some simply took his lead and became garbage collectors as well.

The moral of this story is… do you lead by example? It’s not just picking up the trash in the parking lot. It’s showing up on time and not cutting out early. It’s having your days and weeks planned out in advance, dressing appropriately, being professional. If you are a selling manager, do you put quality proposals together or are you winging it with one-page haphazard “pitches”? Do you invest in your own personal learning and training? Do you promote a healthy lifestyle? Do you attend community events? Do you promote yourself and your stations? How you want your team to act and represent your stations is exactly how you should act and function yourself.

As the old adage goes, you should never expect your employees to do anything that you won’t do yourself. It’s not just a saying, it’s how great leaders lead!

Start by picking up the trash in your parking lot, even the nasty cigarette butts. When you do, eventually you’ll begin to see a change in how the rest of your team starts to respect the surroundings of your office — and their careers. You’ll also potentially find out who your future leaders are. They’re the ones who, instead of walking by the paper cup in the parking lot, will pick it up and discard it. If they pick up cigarette butts, start printing their new business cards now!

I highly recommend all of Subir Chowdhury’s books: The Ice Cream Maker, The Power of Six Sigma, Design for Six Sigma, and The Difference. Each of these books has great lessons in management, team building, leadership, as well as employee and personal relationships.

Wishing you continued success.

Rick Fink is President of ENS Media USA and business partner with Wayne Ens of Ens Media Inc. Rick can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here