Unloading and Loading the Kitchen

Division of labor and delegation are two common leadership issues that any leader has to figure out, and Tortoise drivers are no exception. After one of my first long Green Tortoise trips, I was complaining to some of the other drivers about loading and unloading the kitchen after driving 400 miles. This is when I encountered the second rule of Tortoise trip leadership:

"If you're still setting up the kitchen on the third day
then you're doing it wrong"

One of the drivers had some extra advice for me as well: "If you don't want to mess with loading and unloading the kitchen here's what you do: At the first meal stop unload the kitchen and get the meal going like normal. As soon as the meal is done and the dish washing starts, go around to the other side of the bus. There you'll find a couple of guys (it's always guys) who are pathologically afraid of dish washing. They will load and unload the bus for you."


I honestly thought he was pulling my leg, but the next time I was out on a trip I remembered his advice right about the time the first dishes were hitting the soapy water. Thinking I was wasting my time, I walked around the other side of the bus and found exactly what was promised: two Australians and a Brit who were hiding from the soap. They looked guilty as I walked over to them and one of them started to mumble something about how he'd helped cook, as if to explain why he wasn't helping clean up. Sensing that I might be onto something I made the guys an offer:

"How would you guys like to never have to wash dishes?", I asked.

They looked at each other and then at me, clearly interested and waiting to hear more.

"In fact", I continued, "how would you guys like to have someone else cook your food and clean your dishes for the entire trip?".

Looking like he was sensing a good opportunity, but nervous that their might be a catch, one of the Aussies took the bait.

"Alright Mate, what do we have to do?"

I took them around to the other side of the bus and pointed to the tables, stoves, propane tanks, 60 pound coolers, 40 pound jugs of water, boxes of food, utensils, etc. all spread around on the ground.

"All you have to do is unload and set up the kitchen when we arrive, then load it back on the bus when we're done, and I promise you that you won't have cook or clean up the whole trip."

They looked at each other, then the big pile of equipment, and then back at me.

"No worries, Mate" one of the guys returned.

Yeoman's Work

From then on we would arrive at a stop and I would point to where the kitchen should be and The Boys would spring into action. The rest of the passengers would stand around while they heaved the equipment off the roof and out of the bus and set it up in place. When they were done everyone else would go to work cooking the meal and the three guys would sit around the camp fire guilt-free. Eventually, someone would bring them each a plate of food. When they finished eating, they would hand their plates off to one of the other passengers and wait until it was time to load again.

They never cooked or washed a dish, so they were very happy — but they also worked three times as hard as everyone else.

At first this behavior didn't make sense to me, but there are some cultural trainings that are too deeply ingrained to ignore. For these guys that training was around "women's work" and "men's work". I thought briefly that the right thing to do might have been to try to change their beliefs around who does what kind of work, I knew that would be a losing battle. I also noticed that the women on the trip who ended up washing their dishes didn't seem to be bothered by the guy's behavior — in fact, they seemed to encourage it.

At one point I asked the wash up crew if they minded the arrangement and they actually laughed at me.

"Are you kidding? Give the lads a cheer and a whistle and they'll do all the heavy lifting. If swabbing a plate or two keeps me from having to heave all that stuff on and off the bus I'm happy to do it!"

This arrangement still rankles my sense of fair play, but the improvement on the trip was undeniable: I got to focus on orchestrating the meal, the guys got to maintain their (perhaps misguided) sense of manliness, and the rest of the passengers didn't feel that they were pulling anyone else's weight. Everyone was coming out ahead in the transaction and the trip went forward with a happy and well-fed group of passengers.

What Matters to You

Treating everyone the same sounds like the best way to manage people, but it doesn't take into account the very real differences they have. Some people want to be out in front of the group with everyone looking at them, while others would rather die than be seen. Some people want to spend most of their time digging through data, while others can't stand looking at numbers. Some people love talking to the public all day, where some people would much rather work alone.

People are each unique, and the sooner you find out what each person really wants out of their journey the more satisfied you can help them become. It doesn't always work out as well as it did with the bus kitchen, but don't assume you know what people want until you ask. They may secretly want to do exactly the part that no one else does.