Discovering Pez

What An Interactive Candy Teaches Us About Leadership and Coaching

Christmas time always provides many fun memories and this year was no exception. Santa left Pez dispensers in my kids’ stockings—for the first time. My daughter was very excited to try out her new Pez “toy”.  With my background as a corporate trainer, I’m a big fan of “hands on” learning, so even though I knew my daughter had never operated a Pez dispenser, I had faith that she’d figure it out. I  handed it to her with no instruction. As the video clip below shows, it took her a few tries, but she eventually mastered it.

As my daughter manipulated the Pez dispenser this way and that, trying to figure out how to get the candy out, I realized: Oops! I made some faulty assumptions here. Because I’d learned how to use a Pez dispenser so long ago, I’d forgotten that even the simple act of popping up the head isn’t something people innately know how to do. When I watched the video replay, I was reminded of this: leadership calls us to teach, coach and delegate.  Even seemingly “simple” instructions may be misinterpreted, like when I coached my daughter, “the other way, sweetie” and she did, but still didn’t quite get it right because my instructions weren’t clear enough.

How many times have you handed over a task or a project to a colleague or a direct report, thinking that it was a no-brainer, only to find out that you took something for granted? We’ve all been there, right? There are certainly benefits to letting people figure it out for themselves, but just be sure you haven’t someone up to fail. After all, most projects aren’t as easy to execute as a Pez dispenser.

Updated for 2018: This video was recorded in 2010 and remains one of my fondest memories of my kids’ childhood. An interesting observation about the passage of time: the kid in this video is now a very mature teenager and has changed quite a bit. But the advice to leaders is still sound – we can’t just hand over something to someone and expect that they will automatically “get” it.


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