Never Eat Alone – Have Lunch with a Sergeant!

There is a saying “Never Eat Alone!” It comes from a book about networking written by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz. You may be thinking, “Col. John has gone soft in the head. He is recommending a book about networking when the subject is leadership!” I do recommend the book. I think you will find it is more than just networking. I too recommend leaders, from the hallowed halls of the “C” suites to the front line get-it-done first level supervisors, Never Eat Alone – Have Lunch with a Sergeant!

No, I am not recommending you find a young Marine or Army sergeant to have lunch with, but you do have “sergeants” in your organization. They are those first-level supervisors. They are the floor managers, the shift foremen and team leaders. They interact with the men and women that keep your business running. They touch the employees that touch your customers. In many instances, they are the face of the company to the customer. They are the first to receive the complaint and how they handle it establishes the company’s reputation.

I know too many executives that believe the only validation of a company’s health is its profit and loss statement. It is like the person who never visits the dentist unless there is a problem­ – the smile is big and bright therefore I have no problems! We all know, or should know, that is a recipe for false teeth.

Lunching with a sergeant is not a “look at me session” rubbing elbows with the working women and men of the organization. Having lunch with a sergeant is a reconnaissance mission. It serves three major purposes: gathering internal intelligence, gathering external intelligence and passing intelligence. Intelligence is actionable information.

Internal intelligence

What internal intelligence can you learn from your sergeant? Quite a bit. For example, you will learn how well organizational policies are being communicated.  Communicated policies translate into the execution of the organization’s strategy. The most difficult part of a strategy is the execution, not the development.

Your lunch will also uncover problem areas. Who among the employees are being treated unfairly, or other important employee relation issues that, left unaddressed, could fester into something requiring legal action?

External intelligence

Are your customers deeply satisfied? If your answer is “Yes.” How do you know? If your answer is “No.” Why not?

Having lunch with your sergeant can be illuminating in answering questions about customer satisfaction. The sergeants are, in most cases, the first to know about customer satisfaction. More importantly, if you have taken the time to prepare them to be heroes for the company, they are well prepared to handle the situations that arise. Difficult situations arise on a daily basis that require skill at the lowest levels.

The higher a difficult situation rises up the ladder of leadership for resolution the higher the degree of anger that builds exponentially within the customer, even if the resolution is in favor of the customer. The damage is done. Your Sergeants will tell you about these situations, and some may take much pride in letting you know how expertly they handled the problem.

Vendors are also customers. Sergeants can give you much insight into how well vendors deliver for the company.

Passing intelligence

During your lunch, never miss the opportunity to pass intelligence. It is a surefire way of getting information into the workforce. It is better than email blasts and bulletin boards. It is delivered with a personal touch from your mouth into their ears. Having lunch with your sergeant will be known. Done correctly – that is, the lunch is in a public setting – most of the company will know and will be eager to hear what was the gist of the conversation from the sergeant.


I love bonuses! The bonus of having lunch with a sergeant: the boss is now a person. The boss is someone who listens, who speaks clearly, who
passes information directly.

It is important that you become a master communicator. I have addressed what I call Level Four Communications in my eBook, Leading with Fortitude – The Essentials, and I will address it again in a later blog post. It is that important.

Bonuses are not free. The intelligence you receive MUST BE ACTED UPON! Credibility will be lost if not.


Do not make promises you are not certain you can deliver. People rarely remember what you say, but they will remember with painful accuracy what you promised. An unfulfilled promise will come back to haunt you.


Never eat alone – eat lunch with a sergeant is networking. It is one of the most important networking missions a leader will embark on. Eating lunch with a sergeant is not something you do daily but do it enough to build your reputation with those that matter most in your organization – your workforce.

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