Back when I first started cutting hair it wasn’t exactly non stop excitement. I had all the cool haircutting stuff, mirrors, clippers, combs and the like. The one thing I lacked was customers. I knew what to do to get those, but it takes time. Like I said, it was back in the beginning.
I had been sitting in my 100 year old barber chair, inside that dinky little shop, for over an hour, just reading. It was a nice place to be. It was my first shop. I had two antique barber chairs, two antique looking back bars with mirrors, and a hundred year old Victrola turntable, the wind up kind. It made for a nice atmosphere.
I got really excited when I saw no less than 5 men walk deliberately past all the offerings of the sporting goods store and make a beeline right toward the barber shop. As they entered into the confined space of the shop I positioned myself behind the chair. I could tell that the men were all of an asian ethnic background and it seemed that they were not conversant in English as a group. One man spoke English fairly well and he was the one that did all the talking. I asked how many were getting haircuts. My spirit fell a little as he said in a heavy oriental accent, “only this man getting haircut.” I sighed and began cutting. I was not down for long. My natural way of being is mostly positive. Customers were not exactly crowding and pushing their way in. and one haircut was a darn sight better than none. It paid better too.
I seated and draped the man who indicated he was the one to get a haircut, and began to consult on length and style through the man who spoke English and he would translate my questions and then the reply. I began cutting the desired length and style and chatted the best I could through a third party translator.
I was about half way through the haircut and I wasn’t speaking as much as I was concentrating on the task at hand. The 4 other guys in the group, including my translator, began to speak in their own native language. A couple of them smiled and nodded, then went back to speaking. When they seemed to have finally settled on what they were discussing they all turned back to face the man in the chair as well as the, now uneasy, man behind the chair. The translator locked his gaze on me and addressed me in an almost formal way. He said, “We are not from here. (I didn’t say what I was thinking. Rare!) He went on, “We are from Korea. This is our crew and we travel around this country building greenhouses. We are working on one nearby.” He then said something in what I now know was Korean, to the man in the chair, who nodded. (Don’t ever nod in the barber chair. It worked out this time but it doesn’t always end well) He went on, “This man who cut his hair, he is our boss. He went first so that we could see if you are skillful. You do good job. You do skillful haircut. Now we all want haircut from you!” And they all did and were pleased.
I like affirmation. It felt good to be that day. I want to be careful not to escape the greater point in this story. The boss went first. He was the leader. Oftentimes in our culture we send an “expendable” to test out the new waters. It is better to sacrifice them than run the risk of losing someone “important.” In this case it was the boss, the highest paid man in the group, the one with the authority to tell the others what to do and when, that sat down and tried the untried barber. Why did he do it? Because, that is exactly what great leaders do!