January 7, 2012

What do you do when people intentionally disobey rules and regulations? Get out the company manual, reinstate capital punishment and subject the violators to non-stop torture? I don’t think that would be the solution. Besides, pretty soon, you will have the Human Rights advocates banging on your doors. But you can deal with the problem if you use a little creativity and understand a little bit of employee empowerment, as the following story will clearly explain.


At a large private high school somewhere in the Midwest, a young girl created a mini-scandal when she made an impression on the bathroom mirror of her lips in bright red lipstick. The principal, a bright, well-educated woman with more than 20 years of experience in public school administration, was appalled. She immediately addressed the students over the school intercom:

“It has come to my attention that someone has been leaving an impression of their lips on the mirror in the second-floor girl’s bathroom with her lipstick. This behavior is considered vandalism and will not be tolerated. I hope that whoever is responsible for this will not do it again and will apologize for her inconsiderate actions. And I will warn you all that if this incident is repeated, all guilty parties will be suspended for a period of one week. I trust I won’t have to address this problem again.”

Naturally, the principal’s announcement had precisely the opposite effect. Despite the teacher’s best efforts, an epidemic of lipstick imprints galloped through the girl’s bathrooms. In desperation, the principal listened to an idea from the school janitor and allowed him to try it.

The janitor gathered together about five junior and senior girls who were the unofficial leaders of their classes and led them into one of the bathrooms with a bucket and a washrag in his hands. “I wanted to show you girls just how difficult it is to wash this lipstick off the mirrors,” he told them. The girls rolled their eyes, folded their arms, and otherwise signaled their utter indifference.

The janitor then proceeded into one of the stalls, dipped his washrag in the toilet, and swirled it around in the water. He went over to the lipstick on the mirror and wiped it off with the toilet-water-soaked-rag. Wide-eyed horror replaced the expressions of boredom as the janitor finished wiping down the mirrors.

The lipstick problem ended almost immediately.[1]


Talk about empowerment. The school janitor came out with the best solution in dealing with the problem, which teaches us a lesson as well. Empowerment simply means listening to the suggestions and recommendations of the people working under us. Our Ph.D.’s  and our business degrees do not necessarily mean we know all the right answer all the time. You might be surprised to know that very practical and logical solutions lie in the hands of those simple folks without fancy work titles and they’re simply waiting for us to give them a chance to show us what they’ve got.

Theories, books and high sounding words pertaining to “employee empowerment” abound everywhere. Just take a trip down your favorite bookstores and you’ll find titles upon titles that deal with the subject matter. Use your favorite search engine and look up the word empowerment and you’ll be surprised to find so many articles and materials written about it.


Well I’ve got news for you. Employee empowerment simply means we start with giving due respect and attention to those who are working for us. To accord them with the right degree of honor and respect. And to adopt a teachable mindset remind the self that there will always be something we can learn from others. Successful leaders understand this principle and that’s why he gets the most out of his people. And the bonus here is that his people like what’s happening. And they get motivated to do more.


The bible has something interesting to say: It says that those who want to lead must first learn how to serve and nothing beats serving those who work under us by giving them due attention, honor and respect.


So the next time you find a lipstick impression right in your mirror, before you being out the “Death sentence” Penalty, call your janitor for advice. Because this is good advice.


Note: 723









[1] Lipstick on the Mirror. Alex Lubertozzi, Perdido Magazine

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. aris

    this is really a intelligent move to address the situation. it takes a person with a wisdom (not necessarily knowledge) to come up with a good remedy to solve an annoying problem..thank you mr. kong!

  2. nestie

    Very inspirational story, and in a way funny, people really do learn more by listening than talking, thanks for another beautiful post

  3. bryan concepcion

    It’s simply teaches us how to listen to anyone who can contribute ideas and not only leaning in our own understanding.In life when we reach the top, we feel like our decisions are always right. We ignore to hear advice and we act like we are the ruler, a King. That’s what really happens nowadays.

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