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Giving Permission

August 9, 2022

Several weeks ago, I spoke to Taher, a food service management company based in Minnesota. Before I addressed the group, their founder and CEO Bruce Taher took the stage and shared his incredible story.

Born and raised in Iran, he immigrated to the United States when he was 19 years old to study economics at the University of Oklahoma. Mr. Taher went on to earn an MBA, but part of his remarkable journey included a stint sleeping on a park bench and time working as a dishwasher to support himself. That dishwasher position in the back of a restaurant led him to pursue a career in hospitality, becoming the founder and CEO of this very successful company.

As an outsider looking in, I was challenged by the way Mr. Taher addressed the leaders on his large team, and he did something unique that caught my attention:

He gave his employees the permission to make courageous decisions.

Now that might not sound that special, but he encouraged them to do what was right, even (and especially) when that decision was not the best thing for their bottom line. Here are two main takeaways from his address:

1. Hire 10% more.  Specifically, he told them to hire more people than they need. As with any organization, they are trying to be operationally efficient and maximize profit. However, their founder realized that by running lean (having the exact number of people they need to operate), it puts the team in a bind when they lose a team member, and it adds a mountain of stress to the people who remain.

Mr. Taher challenged the leaders to hire 10 percent more staff than they need to create some margin when someone leaves, provide a better work experience, and foster a healthier culture in the long run.

2. Don’t worry about the Kool Aid. Many of Taher’s customers are K-12 schools. In the day-to-day of the school world, oftentimes a leader in the school will approach some of the Taher team, asking for some Kool Aid for a function or get-together at the school (in other words, his employees knew this challenge all too well).

Bruce Taher said, “when someone asks you for the Kool Aid, your first concern should not be the budget category it would fall under. Just give them the Kool Aid!” At this point in his talk, he grinned and looked over at his Chief Financial Officer, apologized, and added, “If you’ll do the right things, the budget will take care of itself.” In other words, make a decision that’s right for the business even if it seems counterintuitive. Your first thought should always be how to serve people well, and your second thought should be how to steward the money wisely.

Taher, Inc.’s 77-year-old founder used his role to give permission in a way that only he could. What are ways you can leverage your role to give permission? 

As the leader of a team, how can you give permission for someone to do what’s right for the customer even when it costs the company some money? 

As a parent, how can you give your children permission to try something new—and fail? 

As a spouse, how can you give your husband or wife the permission to stop waiting on the perfect job opportunity and to start the small business? 

As a teacher, how can you give your students permission to ask good questions in your classroom?

As a pastor, how can you give your congregation permission to be authentic and share their struggles with one another?

Each one of us has roles where we can use our position and our words to give permission. Consider how you might do that this week.


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