General Leadership

The Yellow Broom

The yellow broom and its lesson. Phillip Kane

November 19, 2010

This weekend I was in Lowe’s grabbing a few things to help get our house ready to sell. As I traversed the cleaning products aisle, I passed the broom section. One of them was yellow. It reminded me of my dad and a lesson I learned from him. 

It happened like this:

One day while working in my dad’s shop he walked up to me and asked for “the yellow broom.”  I was, if memory serves, fifteen. 

By way of background, our brooms were known by their color. Each had different bristle strength. The yellow broom was soft-bristled, suitable for use in the showroom or for removing snow from cars in Winter. 

I allowed to my dad that I’d go get it right away. However, when finding it in use, by one of my porter brethren, I returned to what I was working on prior to the interruption from my dad. 

Some 30 minutes later, my dad returned, looking for the yellow broom.  I told him that I had gone looking for it but found it being put to good use. My dad asked me to please tell him what it was he asked me for. (My dad was a master of the obvious question.) “The yellow broom?” I answered, as I often did, interrogatively. 

Then came the lesson/rant. “Yes, the yellow broom.  “When I ask you for something, I expect one of two things – either that you deliver what I asked for or that you return to tell me that you can’t deliver it, why you can’t and when you expect to do so.”  He went on, “When others ask you for something and you agree to deliver it, you’ve given your word.” (In an earlier lesson I’d learned that one is born with their word and their back and neither should be broken for anyone. So I understood the importance assigned to the giving of one’s word).  He finished by repeating, “Keep your word or tell people when you can’t.”

That’s the point for the week. 

When we give our word, others plan accordingly. When we fail to either keep it or come back to say we can’t, bad things happen.

While it is never optimal to not deliver on our commitments, things will end up in a better place when those we’ve made promises to know it before we break them.  That’s what my dad was saying. 

We won’t keep every commitment we make. That’s because we aren’t perfect. It’s OK. As long as we let those counting on us know beforehand, so that, together, we can seek the next best solution. 

When we do, we’ll spend less time in the unproductive effort of sweeping up messes. We’ll more quickly find another way. Most importantly, we’ll protect vital trust between ourselves and others.

Bring the yellow broom – or say you can’t.  

And win. 

If you like the blog, you’ll love the book. To purchase a copy of Phillip’s book, The Not So Subtle Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership, from John Hunt Publishing, London, please follow this LINK. “Letters” is based on 85 story-backed lessons Phillip used while leading actual teams to accomplish extraordinary things. It is an outstanding resource for those who wish to commit to becoming the sort of leader that people WANT to follow.

To learn more about Phillip, please click HERE.