Last year, I was participating in a Zoom networking event with about 50 people. When the event started slowly, the moderator, as an ice breaker, asked people to tell about their first job.

There were an assortment of answers, including one gentleman who told of his childhood job as a paper delivery boy.

I spoke up soon after and said I had wanted to have that same experience when I was a kid, but I was unable to because Jimmy, a neighbor a year older than me, had the job.

I got to deliver the paper as his substitute a bunch of times over the years when he went on family vacations. Before those trips, Jimmy would have me accompany him on his route for a couple of days, making sure I knew which houses got the paper, where each customer liked their paper to be left, and other tidbits.

Something occurred to me after I told that story to the networking group: Jimmy’s dedication to customer service had an impact on me.

If I was the paperboy today, I would do exactly what Jimmy did to make sure my customers got the service they wanted. I would deliver papers exactly how my customers wanted them delivered, and if I was going to be away, I would carefully train my replacement.

It’s a bit of a “golden rule” approach. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” though I have also heard for customer service the approach should be, “Do unto others as they would like you to.”

Jimmy was paid for his work (as was I when I filled in for him). And tips were an important part of the pay.

The experience of thinking back to that paper route reminded me of the conversations many of us have had during the pandemic regarding essential workers: all the people we have realized are the most essential, how we pay those people, and how we treat them in general.

I was out to dinner with three of my high school buddies last summer, our first shot at returning to some semblance of normalcy after being fully vaccinated. When it came time to split the bill, I planned to give my usual percent as a tip, but my friend Steve suggested we give more. From that moment forward, my tipping amounts increased, to what I would have previously considered to be an extremely generous amount. And I expect to keep up that very high level of tipping for good.

A couple of weeks later, I sent a note to Steve. “Went to lunch today and realized I’ve been tipping a lot more since that dinner we had.” He wrote back, sarcastically, “Oh sorry, is that my fault?” I wrote back, “Yes. As I said when we were together, I felt I was a reasonably generous tipper. Now I am more generous. I thank you. And the servers thank you more.”

When I say “Be a Leader” (the third of my Six Simple Rules for a Better Life), the leadership I am talking about is not being a CEO of a company, or being the president of a country. What I am talking about is how you show up at home, at work, and in your community; stepping up to help when others need it; speaking up when you see injustice; and, as Steve did, helping others to see the right way to act.

Essential workers have stepped up. Whether they are driving a long-haul truck filled with food and other goods, preparing or serving food at restaurants, delivering food or other goods to our homes, or, of course, providing health care. They are being paid, but as we have seen during the pandemic, they are often putting themselves in harm’s way as they do their work. They are leaders as well. Let’s be leaders ourselves, by treating them accordingly.

Be well,