How Would Your Team Members Feel About Having Lunch With You?

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A lot of our job candidates are from out of town, and we’ll pick them up from the airport in a Zappos shuttle, give them a tour, and then they’ll spend the rest of the day interviewing,” Tony Hsieh says. “At the end of the day of interviews, the recruiter will circle back to the shuttle driver and ask how he or she was treated. It doesn’t matter how well the day of interviews went; if our shuttle driver wasn’t treated well, then we won’t hire that person.”

There’s never an excuse for being impolite or rude to somebody just because they drive a shuttle.

Can I get an “Amen?”

I read this quote from an interview on Business Insider and this set the framework for my day. As I drove into work that morning, I could not help but think of a former CEO who was the model for me for what leadership was about.

How a leader can set a tone for everyone

Sharon Patrick was the founding CEO of Martha Stewart Living. What made Sharon so remarkable was that she exemplified this type of behavior of Tony Hsieh at Zappos.

Everyone knew her as Sharon, from the mailroom to the boardroom. If you wanted to find her early in the morning, she would be sitting in the mailroom with her feet up talking to the guys. She thought nothing of walking through the office and grabbing a chair next to your desk to ask what you were working on.

Her laugh was a Sharon laugh; it echoed throughout the building. That set the tone and that set the culture.

I always felt that when she left the company we went into a slow spiral, and from all indications, they are still struggling to come out of it.

The key to cultural alignment is that the tone starts from the top. There’s no need to sit in some conference room and hammer out some statement, post it all over, email it all over, and expect the organization to change.

It will not happen until the lowest rung on the org chart feels it. How do you think the van driver at Zappos feels? Do you think he or she is engaged? Having the “suits” reach down to ask their opinion and get them involved has to be a morale builder.

Executive “attitude” needs to go away

I was with one of our managers recently, and security asked for our ID. I gladly provided mine, and when the guard asked a question about my companion, he snatched his ID from the agent and tried to belittle him just for asking a question.

I was incredulous at this behavior, and I can guarantee that this will never happen again. There is nothing that causes my blood to boil as when some high-ranking individual treats someone below them in a lesser way because of their status.

This is especially rampant in all kinds of organizations. I have seen the so-called “big folks” step into an elevator and not make an utterance or a “good morning” to anyone. It was as if they owned the elevator and we were invading their space.

This smug attitude by some leaders is going to have to die a slow death if they want innovation, dynamics, and profitability in return.

This brings up the debate of IQ vs EQ. There was a time that test scores, technical skills, school ranking, etc, were at the top of the list in the interview dynamic. I call this the IQ Factor.

However, people began to realize that high intelligence in no way guaranteed a life of success.

Leaders that people want to work for

I believe that individuals with strong leadership potential in today’s work environment need to be emotionally intelligent or have high EQ. The new found dynamic is moving to the forefront in the hiring process.

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The dynamics of the workplace has changed with the evolution of project based or teams working on projects. The technical skills are needed but the soft skills [EQ] are paramount.

Gone are the days that leaders resided in a cocoon and you had to have title superiority just to get in the vicinity. This type of leader is gradually fading away and companies and boards should realize that a new skill set is needed to deal with the demands of these turbulent times, because these times are the new normal.

If you want great results, you must have an excess of leaders that people want to work for. These are the type of leaders that people just enjoy being in the company off.

There is nothing I enjoy more than having a conversation with our company’s gardeners and laborers. At first they did not know how to respond to me, since it seemed that no one in authority had ever spoken to them. Now, we talk and they stop by to see if I need anything.

Will people be happy meeting with you?

I had one of them tell me the other day that it is a joy just to come into HR if they have an issue. On occasion, they have even walked me to my car while taking everything out of my arms, briefcase and all. This is all because I took a few minutes here and there to ask how they and their families were doing. They are not afraid anymore.

In your organization, people may still be afraid. The further you go down your org chart, the more that may be the case.

But remember: If you want an initiative to succeed, you must go to the people who it would affect the most and get them involved. Everyone that you engage will become a brand ambassador for your department or initiative.

I have worked for companies that, for various initiatives, gave people the opportunity to have lunch or dinner with the executives. You could almost see the squirming when it happened, because no one wanted to have to sit through a meal with someone who they had no connection or relationship with.

However, I go back to Sharon Patrick and think that employees who worked under her would have been lined up around the block for the opportunity to get together for a lunch or dinner.

Would your team members get excited about having dinner or lunch with you? If the answer is NO, then your EQ is suffering.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


1 Comment on “How Would Your Team Members Feel About Having Lunch With You?

  1. Great post. All leaders can benefit from applying the concepts of servant leadership. It’s good business and common decency to treat people with respect. I like your reference to the tone for culture alignment being set from the top and that’s very true. It’s very powerful to just listen and show you care as a leader. It’s even more powerful when people see and hear about you not only listening but translating the feedback to action or empowering / supporting them to take action.

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