From Awkward to Leader

By Robert Conrad

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

I’m awkward, but hey, we all have to start somewhere…

I had just moved out on my own but was having issues with finding more secure employment. It was to this end that I decided to throw myself into my current work. My bosses noticed and offered me a promotion.

As a result, my first taste of responsibility for overseeing others came from an unlikely source: a fast-food restaurant.

As I was on a new kick of self-improvement, I wanted to go beyond what other Shift Leaders had done in the past and truly engage with my team.  Since I grew up as an awkward, socially aloof individual, this position would truly push me outside of my comfort zone.  Knowing this, I dove in headfirst and started with the first step: improving my communication skills.

Building a Foundation of Communication

First off, I should mention: I am horrible at remembering names.  There are many different methods to solve this problem, but the one that worked for me was repetition.  I would simply say their name twice while engaging them in conversation and say it to myself during the same conversation to help it “stick.”  After establishing this approach, it was time to move on to the next step: interacting with my employees.

Growing up awkward didn’t make this task easy, but since I was better at remembering their names, I could establish, at minimum, a baseline relationship with my employees.  I found that by sticking with elements I could control, such as honesty and leading by example, I could gain confidence and allow my sense of humor to shine through.  This only got easier as I got to know my employees better.

The Pinnacle of My Leadership Development


As time wore on, employees came and went, but by then, I was firmly entrenched as a Shift Leader who made things happen.  My newfound confidence and communication opened many previously closed doors and made my shift and restaurant one of the most desirable ones to work for.  I was even invited to attend a company-wide focus meeting where topics such as training methods and company direction were discussed.

I should also note that this prestigious honor was typically reserved for managers much higher up on the food chain than where I was at the time. In truth, not all of my employees were the stereotypical “brat” teenagers working part-time.  My employees came from varying backgrounds, which included one grown man who left behind his war-torn nation and barely spoke English, an entire family who immigrated to the United States to help make a better life for themselves, and other adults who were supplementing their income.

Engaging Your Employees

Not all of these people could be trained the same way, but it was my duty to make them comfortable and productive, and I took it seriously.  For example, an employee who immigrated from a war-torn nation was put on my shift because he was dubbed “untrainable.”  After a short discussion with him, I discovered that he learned through visual cues.  To help him learn recipes, I would enter orders into the computer using a format he could identify with.  The result? He learned the position quickly and became one of the restaurant’s top performers!

Much can be learned by simply engaging your employees, and I cannot recommend it enough.  Get down to their level and help them understand how important they are to your operation, and good things will follow.

What is the Take-Away?

Even though I spent the first part of my leadership role feeling like a crash test dummy, it did teach me what qualities employees value in their supervisors.  Desired leadership qualities include a positive attitude, confidence, effective communication, and even a sense of humor.  Subconsciously, I did know that these traits were desirable, but it’s an entirely different experience to put those traits into practice and witness the positive results.


Granted, this was a restaurant environment, so employee turnover was something that I grew to expect.  However, to keep morale up on the floor, I would engage and motivate my employees by acknowledging their achievements (no matter how small), encouraging their ideas, and even carving out some time to have fun.  My team and I worked on collaborating to make a snowman family.

Keep having fun, own your behavior, and, above all, never stop growing.  No matter what industry you happen to be a part of, the traits listed above will put you in the fast lane to personal and professional success.

I’d Love to Hear from You

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Robert Conrad
Robert Conrad
Robert Conrad is a recent grad school graduate who has worked in a variety of different industries. Many of these positions have included leadership roles, from fast food to mentoring at-risk youth. Aside from positively changing the lives of those around him, he enjoys playing video games, watching YouTube videos, and hanging out with his family.
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