Originally Published: September 16, 2011 noon
What if you found yourself waiting behind a wheelchair in the drive-through lane of a fast food restaurant? Would you be angry? Would you honk? Should it be allowed?
Not long ago my wife and I were having lunch inside the Prescott Valley Burger King when we spotted a woman in a powered wheelchair going through the drive-through lane.
The employees were amused and paused from their work to glance out the windows. The question was raised as to whether this was allowed or even legal. Other cars were now pulling in behind the woman in the wheelchair as she slowly approached the window.
Law and Policy Clarified
I pause this story here for a moment to give you some background on what I later learned.
I called the Town of Prescott Valley and spoke to members of the police department. There are no laws or town ordinances against a wheelchair going through a drive-through restaurant window lane.
I then called Burger King corporate headquarters in Miami, Fla. and asked them for the official policy: Are wheelchairs allowed to use the drive-through window lane at their restaurants? I explained that this was a powered wheelchair for a severely disabled woman.
The official Burger King policy is "no." No wheelchairs are permitted to go through the drive-though window lane. Nothing should be permitted to go through that is not a vehicle, like a car, that requires a driver's license and vehicle registration to operate.
Now back to that moment of decision for the Burger King staff and managers.
There was a pause as I saw several eyes glance at what looked to be a manager or supervisor. The manager then turned and continued bagging the woman's order, which though unspoken, was a clear answer - provide the service this woman came to receive.
It may have been missed by other customers, and perhaps only observed subconsciously by some of the employees, but I believe these subtle moments of leadership are important.
Placing People Before Policy
How many of us have encountered a manager that placed policy before people?
In past careers I have been invited to facilitate workshops on the difference between management and leadership. Much has been written on this topic, but to me, it often comes down to respect and integrity. The most effective managers I have ever worked for showed great respect toward others (employees and customers alike) and were always striving to do the right thing, even when there were official policies and personalities in the way.
American scholar Warren G. Bennis once said, "Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right."
I later learned that the woman in the wheelchair is named Marquette, and she is severely disabled and on her own. She told me that the only way she can get out and enjoy a meal from a restaurant is to use the drive-through lane at restaurants near her home.
It was a beautiful day and Marquette enjoyed a simple pleasure that you or I might take for granted. But that moment wasn't spoiled because a supervisor and staff wanted to enforce the right company policy. Instead, they did what was right.