By: Lou McAlister, Senior Consultant
In an upscale San Francisco eatery the other day, a member of the wait staff approached a table much like she had several others in the vicinity. She was upbeat, positive, pretty, and eager to do her job well. The patron couldn’t possibly have looked down on her anymore than he did, if he’d been on the Moon. He was surly, uncommunicative and rude.
Just over at another table, the same staffer approached the diners and was met with smiles and a pleasant greeting.
The situation was perfect for some observation and strategic eavesdropping.
At Mr. Rude Guy’s table, the diatribe was relentless. He wasn’t just being rude to the server, he was rude to his tablemates as well. His “conversation” was all about money, how important he was and how meaningless almost everyone else is to his success.
At the other table, there was conversation about how excited everyone was to be working together, and how they were really hoping to get others on board the project because the potential for success was so great with everyone working together.
The orders were placed, and drinks were served. The ebb and flow of lunch had begun. There wasn’t anything remarkable about the orders from either table. Salads, sandwiches, soups, etc. No doubt, the kitchen received the orders in due course and the meals progressed through the normal process for the restaurant.
But, the drama had just begun. Of course, Rude Guy’s order didn’t come out when he wanted it to (although it was delivered at just about the same time as Nice Table’s was). Nothing was prepared to his liking, even though all seven of the other diners were happy with their lunches. (Rude Guy was with 3 others and Nice Table had 4.) Rude Guy was disagreeable and dismissive to the server and finally demanded a visit from the manager.
By the end of the hour, we learned that Rude Guy’s project was in trouble. No one could be trusted. No one was getting the job done to his satisfaction. Heads were going to roll. The team was dysfunctional, and he was going to hire a whole new team (good news or bad news to those with him, I wonder). Everyone continued to disappoint him.
At the Nice Table, it was a different story. They were building one success on another. Turns out that there was a leader at the Nice Table. A boss, if you will. Lots of questions were being asked about how others felt about a situation or an outcome. Lots of questions about how things should be done and what outcomes could be expected. There was a lot of input from the other folks at the table and a lot of listening to what was being said.
The contrast couldn’t have been sharper. The difference was between someone who genuinely cares about others and someone who simply does not. The situation was limited, of course. We don’t get to see either of these men outside of the narrow constraints of the lunch setting. We don’t know about their families, outside interests or other interactions.
What we could see and did see though, bears a simple truth. Genuine interest in other people is perhaps the most important skill you can develop. It serves as a foundation for inspired leadership. It builds trust, and draws good, talented, motivated people to you.
Showing genuine interest in others does not necessarily mean that someone is nice, easy going or less demanding. Some famously cantankerous and difficult people were also deeply interested in others (Steve Jobs, for instance). When you are intensely and genuinely interested in someone else, it’s impossible to hide; and when you aren’t – it’s impossible to fake. Not everyone expresses that genuine interest in the same manner, but somehow or other, the people who are there sense it, and respond to it.