How observing others can train you more effectively than most leadership training can

Previously, I posted “Anyone can create a good leader (more effectively than most leadership training can)”. It was about the importance of reinforcing positive leadership behaviors you see around you.

This time I’d like to emphasize what we can learn every day from leadership examples around us. From positive examples, as described in the previous post, but also from (at first) seemingly random examples.

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a group in the restaurant of a hotel. The person who paid, added a tip on the credit card slip in the appropriate slot. When the waitress returned the credit card, she said: “The tip you added won’t go to the hotel staff. So I didn’t charge you for it…” We left the restaurant stunned.

Apparently, she preferred us to keep the money instead of paying it to the hotel. She probably thought: if the hotel owner doesn’t allow the staff to earn a bit extra for work well done, what is the point of a customer paying extra? And indeed, we meant the tip to go to the personnel, and not end up in the hotel owner’s pocket. However, although we appreciated her honesty, it left us with a strange impression of the place. How does this hotel treat it’s employees? Why does this employee feel more sympathetic to the customer than to her boss, so much so, that she gives money back to the customer?

Of course we don’t know the whole story. There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation why the staff is not paid their tips (maybe their base salary is much higher than restaurants in the neighborhood, or they get compensated another way). Whatever the situation is, the personnel clearly isn’t happy. This has an effect on being able to attract and retain good staff. It also has an effect on customers. A customer’s impression is quite important in an industry based on service. And this didn’t leave a great impression.

When you are a manager, you don’t want your employees to behave like that. Of course, you can’t always be their most favorite and popular person. But you certainly don’t want to turn your employees against the company.

Turn situations like this into questions about your own team. What are your people telling customers? What kind of impression does the company want to give customers? And if there’s a discrepancy, what is the cause? Are your people committed to the organization, and want to boost it forward? Or are they just earning their money, while frantically looking for other, more interesting, opportunities?

Understand what is happening in your team, and why it is happening. And address issues when they arise.

And keep your eyes peeled, as interesting leadership lessons like these come along every day.

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