High performing leadership appears in the most surprising places and often when you least expect it. It might be the behavior of the Cabin Service Manager on a long-distance flight, the manager of Beauty and Health Clinic, or the behavior of the owner and duty manager of a restaurant. But when it appears the principles and behavioral elements are the same as those written about in text books, journals and magazine articles for global corporations, mining companies and financial service firms. The principles and behavioral elements of effective leadership are universal, it seems.
I opened the door into this up-market restaurant in Clare, a regional town in one of the best wine-making regions of Australia. I was struck immediately by the large number of close bodies – a seemingly impenetrable wall of talking, noise, music and clinking glass – hipsterville!
But before I could react an arm reached out and a smiling face said “Welcome” and guided me through to the Maitre D’. In an equally short time, I was “handed off” to a waitress and guided to a table in the rear spaces that was comfortable and prepared. It could simply be that the experience contrasted so vividly with one I had earlier in the day where a waitress was clear and direct and quite forceful in stating what could and could not be done in her establishment. But I think not. What stood out was the ease and speed with which it occurred – a very well oiled, efficient, attentive and responsive process.
The waitress was approachable in the way that such people should be, but she was also at ease with herself – as my colleague Michael Grinder would say, she was “breathing low and fluidly”. But so was the next staff member who filled the glass with water. And the next who provided the menus. Now I was intrigued.
It is rare for me to observe such seamless and effective processes, and such attentive, approachable and consistently smooth and grounded behavior from all the staff. Was it trained into them? No, it seems. For I asked who was the manager and I was pointed to “Candice” .
As I observed her it was immediately apparent how and why this whole system worked so well and so efficiently. Two minutes of observing her was enough to explain all.
This was a person who was hyper vigilant at both a strategic and detailed levels. She was scanning the room continuously noticing patterns and specifics and attending to both alternately. As more guests entered the restaurant she engaged in table service herself, still maintaining her vigilance of the whole. She was breathing low continuously, maintaining high eye contact with the diners providing a Goldilocks level of smiling .. not too much, not too little, just right. As she started to interact with each diner, you could see each of their bodies relax as her approachability took effect on them. Probably more than anything she kept her head relatively still compared to most other females, as she listened carefully to each order. Like the passengers on an uneventful flight with an approachable flight attendant or voice from the cockpit, the diners settled in because they felt “safe” and were to about to have a predictable and comfortable experience.
Then I noticed that this pattern of engagement with the guests was replicated by all the waiting staff. As the leader she was modelling a consistent style of engagement and behavior that was the norm among all staff. As is the leader, so are the employees.
Her interactions with her staff were equally elegant and effective, they were exquisitely fit for purpose. In her continual high-level scanning of the bar and restaurant areas, she noticed something awry and in moving across the floor with food to a table she triggered the attention of a young male staff member and without providing him any eye contact at all, simply directed his attention to the issue by walking along side momentarily and looking ever so briefly in the direction of the problem. I noticed her do this on four separate occasions with staff members, and (rightly) avoiding eye contact with them on every occasion, thereby signalling that it was an interaction for each of them with their employer or supervisor. Yet for each diner she provided high levels of eye contact – personal connection was primary in this interaction.
On other occasions, I noticed her provide staff members with high levels of eye contact but they were clearly socializing with her at those points – eye contact for relationships, looking away for accountabilities. Her separation of these two was simply superb.
Candice was modelling some key principles of superb leadership: –
- Equal attention to the macro and the micro – the big picture and the detail
- Ensure the whole system works as one
- Continuous vigilance and intervention
- Model in your behavior exactly what you expect in others
- Focus on what is needed in the other person at that exact moment
- Maintain flow and balance
- Relate to employees from both role and person
- Maintain relationship and accountability
She was also modelling some key behaviors of superb leadership: –
- In all situations, be aware of and maintain easy relaxed breathing
- High eye contact for relationship, minimal eye contact for difficult topics or when using the authority of your role
- Indicate the problem or issue visually using gesture and do not look at the person when doing so
- Build relationship and ease with high eye contact and smiling when needed
Next time you are in a restaurant or public place, hone your observations skills and see if you can draw conclusions about the type of leadership that is in place.