I was seventeen years old, and ready to throw a pie in the face of my history teacher – just one week before graduation from high school. This sounds like a really bad idea in retrospect, but at the time I was delighted by the prospect. Our history teacher, let’s call him Mr. Smith, was incredible. He was tough, knowledgeable, and passionate about teaching. He loved to pick on each of us, testing us on everything from our religious beliefs to the way we dressed, but none of us complained about him because we knew that he cared about us, and we cared about him.
We adored playing practical jokes on him – for example, he had a bad habit of spitting when he talked due to his enthusiasm about history, so one day those of us on the front row brought umbrellas. When he began to speak, we all opened our umbrellas to shield our faces. We laughed hysterically, and so did he, because he knew when to laugh and when to be stern. He knew what was playful and what was disrespectful . . . and he knew this because he took time to get to know each one of us.
The night before the pie incident we were laughing about his latest comments in class, and someone said, “We ought to throw a pie in his face as a final goodbye.” Being a woman of action, I stepped up and said, “You bake it, I’ll throw it.”
The next morning my stomach lurched when I saw a chocolate crème pie sitting on my homeroom desk. I knew that I had to stay true to my word. Moments later the first period bell rang, and Mr. Smith was standing at his classroom door, arms folded, watching us come in. Three of his favorite students walked up to him and grabbed his arms. Then, he saw all 5’3″ of me holding the pie.
“Don’t do it, Donna!” he yelled. I drew back my arm with the poise of a softball player, my heart pounding with adrenaline and my head screaming “Are you crazy woman?” My arm moved forward with tremendous force and hit him with such momentum half of it splattered against the chalkboard. I heard the guys holding him laughing due to the power of the hit, and I temporarily regretted those years of playing softball.
Once the deed was done, I had a brief moment of total panic. My heart increased its speed as I realized I had not planned the next step of this strategy. I finally stayed in the classroom because I knew Mr. Smith would want to retaliate immediately, and I was not going to spend the next week watching my back. He was bald, so one hand scooped the chocolate off of his head and he smeared it all over my face and hair. We were all laughing hysterically.
I helped him scrub the pie off the walls, and we both went to our respective bathrooms to clean up. As I left school that day with no make-up and wet hair I stuck my head in his door and told him I loved him. He said he loved me too. And that was that.
One day later a couple of other students tried to pull the same stunt at another school and were suspended and not allowed to graduate. Why? They didn’t build the relationship first. I knew my teacher, he knew me, and we had a mutual respect. We knew what our limits were, and we respected those limits. I worked hard in his class, and he worked hard as my teacher.
Relationships take effort, whether you’re in sales or a leader. You have to know your clients and your employees, and you must work hard and add value to them. Get to know the people you serve, and then ask yourself if this is a relationship that could withstand a chocolate crème pie.