The Union Club of Cleveland’s Lawrence McFadden, CMC, GM/COO, says purposeful and customized kindness creates a positive ripple that affects the culture of your club.
As a child of the 70s, my mom taught us to listen first and speak second. That simple mantra has seamlessly fit into nearly all of my future career conversations.
Often as young professionals, we are taught to know our place within the organization. That was certainly true for kitchens where management took credit for the kitchen’s execution.
These subliminal lessons taught us servant leadership, meaning no one is bigger than the greater good of the team. This mentality was certainly envied by the front of the house. They marveled at the sight of cooks working in total silence as they anticipated each other’s needs.
At Seven Oaks restaurant in the early 80s, our Chef was the only one who spoke during service. At eighteen I hoped not to be even noticed when service got rough.
During my apprenticeship in the mid-80s our main dining room was a war zone between the cooks and servers. The factory-like Greenbrier Hotel was home to endless orders that came in response to the thousands of guests seated each evening. Profanity, insults, and threats were shared between the older mature cooks and the brazen waiters.
After these battled shifts, everyone walked out together arm-in-arm. This was my first lesson learning that business is business and nothing should be taken personally during service.
When Chef Hartmut Handke arrived as The Greenbrier’s Executive Chef, we finally had our god-like leader and someone for the cooks to look up to. He was a father-like figure who barked orders and instilled pride in the hearts of the cooks who executed his every direction. This was my first experience with a true Executive Chef who commanded the attention of both front and back of the house.
Moving to the 90s, I attended my first Ritz Carlton Food and Beverage Conference in Boston. Our team represented the Amelia Island Hotel, so alphabetically we sat in the front row for the opening President’s session. My Director of Food and Beverage who had experienced previous conferences warned me to keep my eyes directly on our President Horst Schultz. He warned me to never be caught looking away as a newbie of the company. If caught distracted, Horst might call you out and make an example of your lack of focus or dedication.
Fortunately, I didn’t pass out from my intense concentration during the ninety-minute philosophy session. It was like a heavy weight battle, the more passionately he screamed the more intently we focused. Until finally, the speech was over, following thunderous applause, we wobblily exited the ballroom.
When I transitioned to the front of the house in the 2000s my stare was intense, language strong, and my soft touches were non-existent. Some co-workers took the over-under on how quickly I would fail in this new title.
Simple things tripped me up while getting used to the new digs. My stride had to be slowed for better guest observations. A tone of hello had to carry a softer inflection for the intended purpose. Even my posture needed more form fitting of a suit versus the old rigid authoritative culinary uniform style.
The legendary inspective gaze that I had homed for kitchen success was now adjusting to a more empathetic glance with soft-lit eyes. And lastly, my darting head movements slowed, showing the ease of concern when times were busy and hectic.
These actions added a sense of calmness for the customer’s sake. This shift also meant I had to adapt a more customized and purposeful kindness allowing for a greater appreciation in the human service spirit. Humans feel more comfortable when a calming dance of energy is felt. It caused a complete re-wiring of my actionable reactions.
These lessons continue in my daily life years later. While riding my bike recently I passed a crossing guard at a corner light. Each week I would wave to her as a breezed by. For weeks, she just stared at me. Finally, I customized my wave with a slight song of, “Good morning!”
This combination of sound and action became the perfect combination that yield a wave back.
One might ask what’s the point of the waving continually without response. As hospitality professionals, bringing emotion to people creates a positive energy that pulses through our veins. Therefore, it’s true, the industry selects you, you don’t select the industry.
For the past fifteen months, the pandemic took that engagement away in the form of a simple paper mask. Along with the face, closure came awkward handshakes and non-existent human gatherings. We became isolated in the middle of our busy lives.
As the pandemic clouds have begun to clear we can go back to aggressive engagement. Greeting our customers first before being spoken to while reaching out with a simple smile and firm handshake.
Or as my favorite leadership guru Stephen Covey would say, we need to always sharpen the saw. Purposeful kindness is a perfect example of that self-developing lesson.