On Bartenders and Great Leaders

By David Friedman

A number of years ago, I was leading a workshop and I was telling my “Ritz-Carlton story.” For those unfamiliar, I developed the concept of the Fundamentals and the weekly rituals we practice after learning about Ritz-Carlton’s “Basics” and their “Daily Lineup.” Ritz-Carlton has 20 Basics (behaviors) that they teach and practice, primarily through daily lineups that take place in every property in every shift in every department, every single day around the world. It’s the backbone of their extraordinary consistency around service excellence.

As I shared this story, an audience member shared his own Ritz-Carlton story, and it was such a compelling one that I’ve re-shared it with my audiences many times over the years. Here’s what he told me:

The Daily Lineup

He had been at a Ritz-Carlton property once, and as he sat in the bar, he noticed that the bartender was amazingly friendly and helpful, beyond what one might expect to see even in a place like a Ritz-Carlton. Being rather curious, he waited till the crowd thinned out a bit, and then he approached the bartender to share his observations and to learn more. The bartender nodded appreciatively, and then pulled out of his pocket his laminated Credo Card with the 20 Basics, and he explained all about their daily lineups.

Impressed by what he heard, my audience member asked the bartender an interesting question, and the man’s answer is the reason I share this story so often. “Gee, I’m really amazed by that and it sounds incredible,” noted my audience member. “But be honest with me. Just between us guys, does everybody really do that? I mean, do you have to do it?”

Here’s how the bartender replied. He said, “Only if I want to work here.”

Think about that for just a moment. “Only if I want to work here.” That’s what great organizations are like. That’s what championship sports teams are like. There’s a way that we do things “around here,” and it’s not negotiable. As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I hate the Patriots as much as the rest of us, but I try to picture Bill Belichick telling a player how he wants a particular drill done and the player saying, “I hear you, Coach. But I kinda have my own way I like to do it.” I don’t think he’d be on the team for very long.

There’s a famous story of John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach telling Bill Walton, his All-American center, that he’d have to cut his hair (those were team rules back in the early 70’s). When Walton told the coach he didn’t want to, Coach Wooden told him he’d miss him.

Great Leaders are Clear

Now I’m certainly not suggesting that great leaders should be rigidly inflexible in their rules, dispense with any sort of collaboration, and run their organizations with an iron fist. We certainly need to win the hearts and minds of our people. But great leaders are also crystal clear in their expectations and they hold people accountable to those expectations.

When I sometimes hear our clients tell us that they can’t seem to get their eMinder (a tool we use for engaging people in a weekly lesson around their Fundamental) participation above 60 or 70%, I wonder what expectations they’ve set and how serious they are about them. I recently heard a CEO describe his frustration that he didn’t think his field workers were beginning their shifts with their Fundamental of the Week, as he had requested them to do. Upon further discussion, he revealed that he didn’t want to push them too hard on this because “it’s hard to find good people these days.”

The Responsibility of Leadership

In our desire to have everyone feel good or in our fear of upsetting anyone, we sometimes fail to take a stand about the things that are important and that are pivotal to our organization’s success. In our lack of clarity around expectations and accountability, we’ve sometimes abdicated our responsibility as leaders. It’s our job to set a clear direction, articulate the steps needed to achieve our vision, and hold our entire organization accountable for working diligently toward the goal. That’s what great leaders do.

The ironic thing is that while we try to coax everyone to get onboard or to buy in, the majority of our team members simply want to know what we expect. They’re looking for us to provide direction. When we take on the mantle of leadership, we take on that responsibility.

Ok . . . I’m off my soapbox.

If you’d like to learn more about how practicing Fundamentals can help create more clarity for your organization, just give us a call or shoot us an email.

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