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A Grocery Store Lesson in Leadership

At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis a few weeks ago, I responded as most did: grabbed my keys and purse and drove up to our grocery store.

I’d never seen the place so crowded on a weekday morning. Every person in there seemed to share the same objective: stockpile toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and enough food to last for what could be a 14-day quarantine situation.

Amidst the flurry of activity, I felt a slow boil of fear and anxiety within my belly. I walked through the otherwise-friendly, relaxing space and felt a collective nervous energy hang in the air; the impact of the global news was already palpable. Although neighbors were greeting one another in the store aisles, it was clear that nobody wanted to talk beyond a quick “hello.” For an extroverted hugger like myself, the loneliness that I knew would be a byproduct of the pandemic began to settle in. Exchanges with those who I’d normally embrace and with whom I’d typically spend 20 minutes chatting were awkward, abrupt, and unnatural. I began to anticipate our new normal - and although deeply grateful for having resources for groceries and knowing that I’d bring them home to a healthy household, I couldn’t help but feel a bit discontented.

What I didn’t expect at that grocery store, however, was to revisit what ‘leadership’ meant to me

It happened as I was checking out. The young lady working at the cash register was talking with me about her day. She described the emotions everyone was experiencing and her desire to keep people feeling calm. She told me about the measures they were taking to protect the safety of their customers. She asked me how I was doing, how many kids I have at home, what I do for a living, how my business would be impacted, and if I had older relatives.

She took interest. She made great eye contact. She asked questions and listened actively to my responses. She validated how I was feeling but remained upbeat and affirming. She stayed focused on me, making me feel as if I was the most important person in the room while we talked. She informed me - clearly communicating what their stores would be doing to ensure health and safety for their customers. She gave off a positive vibe while remaining calm. And she did this all after having been on her feet for many hours, having managed more customers that day than she serves on the eve of all of their busiest holidays put together (but she never told me that - I heard that from the young lady bagging the groceries).

Despite any fear she herself may have been experiencing, she was not afraid to take the lead in forging a real human connection with me as I checked out. It was beautiful - and she probably had no idea how much I needed it. She lightened the load I had been carrying from one aisle to the next while filling my heart. And as I drove home, I thought about the fact that every day she’s putting her own health at risk so that others will have the nourishment they need….I was left in total awe of her. 

This grocery store clerk led by example on so many levels that day. Empathetic, resilient, positive, motivational, a great listener and connector, patient, humble….I could go on. 

Since that day, I’ve seen countless others rise up and shine their own lights through this scary, surreal period in our history, sharing those same characteristics. Nurses, delivery drivers, grocery store cashiers, doctors, hospital administrators, teachers, volunteers, social workers - all of them are leading by example, simply by inspiring the rest of us.

Titles, getting to the top rung of the corporate ladder, breaking through the glass ceiling...whether or not someone has ever met those conventional expectations of leadership really doesn’t matter to me. As far as I’m concerned, true leaders simply inspire people around them to be better versions of themselves.

This young grocery store clerk inspired me that day to try to practice thinking beyond my own feelings and entering into what others are experiencing during this difficult time. She didn’t tell me to do that, she simply showed me how by doing it herself. The lessons I learned through her example and those of so many others around us right now have helped sustain me over the past weeks, and will nourish me for years to come.

ESTUARY ACTION STEP: What does leadership mean to you? Consider the ways in which you can inspire others, remembering that each one of us has the potential to lead the way for those in our orbit. 

Need support figuring out how you want to lead in life? Book a coaching session today by calling 845.876.2220 or using the contact form at to get in touch!


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