The White Cap

There are many important moments I had with my father. You could call them early-childhood leadership workshops without much exaggeration. The image of a Heinz ketchup bottle always returns me to my family kitchen where I sit at the table watching my father strain to untwist the white cap. He displays exaggerated motions, conveying how tough it is to open the bottle, and soon he looks at me and says: “Would you help me?”

I rush to his side, untwist the cap, and my father relaxes.

“What would I do without you?” he says.

My father could have opened the bottle without the assistance of an elementary school child, but he wanted me to share in dealing with a specific problem, to learn from the process, and to feel some accomplishment. He was revealing the power of working with others, guiding me to take charge and give to others when necessary. It was a simple yet important lesson in others versus you, modesty versus pride.

In today’s tech-driven global economy, effective leadership requires the ability to be responsive to daily “white cap” problems that at one time we could ignore. It’s an ever-shifting environment where a Yahoo and Blockbuster can be market leaders only to face the threat of competition from innovative product delivery models that Google and Netflix have provided; yet even Google and Netflix are immediately vulnerable due to change rooted in new technologies.

In the 21st century, we have an untidy business environment that mirrors my early-childhood leadership workshop in the family kitchen when my father continued to motivate me to help him untwist the “white cap.”