Pancakes and Praise: The Key to Problem Solving


“If you know about a challenge and don’t share it, no one can help you discover solutions.”— Misti Burmeister

After braving the Black Friday crowds, my three shopping partners and I stopped for breakfast at IHOP.

Just before the hostess seated us, I noticed they were only seating people on the left side of the restaurant. Weird, I thought. It’s Black Friday. Weren’t they expecting a crowd?

Within a couple minutes, our waitress came to the table, introduced herself, and proceeded to warn us about the wait time. “That table has been waiting 45 minutes to get food,” she said, pointing to a table five feet from us.

“Why such a long wait?” my mom asked.

“Half the cooks got angry this morning and left,” she explained. “The evening crew didn’t prepare the kitchen properly, so the morning crew had to prepare the kitchen and start cooking right away. They couldn’t keep up, so they left.” Clearly irritated, she added, “If you don’t want to wait, you shouldn’t eat here.”

I couldn’t think of three people with whom I’d rather sit and chat, so we decided to stay.  When I thanked our waitress for the warning, she said, “Well, their unwillingness to cook is affecting my tips.”

Understanding her frustration, I assured her we didn’t mind waiting. Then I encouraged her to take matters into her own hands. “Go back there and authentically appreciate each one of the remaining kitchen staff for staying.”

She gave me a funny look, so I added, “You’ll get more tips if they work harder, right?”


“They’ll work harder if they feel appreciated.”

She did it, and our food was on the table in less than 20 minutes. Meanwhile, we got to enjoy the time together without fretting about our food. Had the waitress failed to set expectations, I doubt our experience would have been so great. Nor would I have had the chance to share my ideas with her.

Often leaders hide challenges from their teams and customers. Not wanting to admit there are problems, they pretend things are going well and hope the situation will resolve itself. But most people are smart and intuitive enough to see through the façade, which undermines the leader’s creditability and trustworthiness.

On the other hand, when leaders are transparent and communicate about their challenges, they open the door to new ideas. They also remove wasted energy created by angst.

If you know about a challenge and don’t share it, no one can help you discover solutions. When you’re honest with your team and even your customers, they feel respected. In turn, they’ll be more patient with your progress and more willing to jump in and help you turn things around.

Join the Conversation: When have you shared a challenge with your team or your customers, only to have them help you solve it?

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across GenerationsHidden Heroes and Power Suck.

Misti on Google+

10 thoughts on “Pancakes and Praise: The Key to Problem Solving

  1. Dale S. Brown

    I think expressing authentic appreciation should become a habit. Just do it all the time. If you see something, say something. Okay I’m changing the meaning of how that is usually said. If you see something good, say something good.

    Just the other day, a car nearly smashed into our bus- and the bus driver skillfully swerved to avoid it. I started cheering for him – and thanked him for saving our lives….It changed my mood from fear to happiness and I think it did the same for everyone there…

    It’s not only good for the world, but I swear it makes me happier too.

    I enjoy your articles as you know…

    • Misti Burmeister

      I love that, Dale – if you see something great, say something great! Imagine if we just focused on what there is to see that IS great!

      I can imagine the other folks on the bus didn’t see the same thing you did.

      Thank you for looking, seeing, and acknowledging:)

  2. Brian Drummond

    I have developed a policy of surprising the staff with bagels. Not every day, or even every week. But when I arrive with a big bag of warm bagels and soft cream cheese, the word gets out quickly: “Bagels in the kitchen!”
    Morale shoots up, and the staff is wonderfully grateful. It doesn’t take much. My motto is: “A little pat on the back goes a long way.” It’s not altruistic–if I can improve morale, I can improve productivity.

    • Misti Burmeister

      Great example, Brian – Ty for sharing! I’m wondering … How do you know that morale has gone up? Also, what’s the best way someone has ever appreciated you? What was the effect it had on you?

      • Brian Drummond

        Measuring morale is more of a feeling than a statistic. When I bring the bagels, you can tell by people’s reaction that they feel appreciated, and they appreciate that.
        When a staff member pokes his/her head in my office and thanks me, it makes my day.

        • Misti Burmeister

          Isn’t that cool… You strive to appreciate them, and end up w the same warm feeling you’re striving to give:)

          Why do you think so few leaders do this, Brian?

          • Brian Drummond

            Is it really so few leaders? I guess I’m a bit of a Pollyanna, but I like to think that “true” leaders instinctively know how to lead the troops. And positive feedback is the best medicine.
            I’ve never been one to rely on the method of “the beatings will continue until morale improves…”
            Love them and they will love you back.

        • Misti Burmeister

          This seems like the “nature” vs “nurture” conversation around leadership. My experience has consistently shown me that great leadership is both… What’s most important is the individuals willingness to grow/learn. Most qualities of exceptional leadership can be taught – the only one that seems nearly impossible to teach is authenticity. Thoughts?

  3. John Smith

    Great post Misti!
    It’s like leaders are fearful to show that they don’t have all the answers. Leaders need to become authentic… then most of the rest will fall in place. 😀

    • Misti Burmeister

      Ty, John! I’m wondering … How do you know someone is authentic? Also, what’s the best example you’ve ever experienced of appreciation? What was the result?


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