Good Leaders Don’t Make Others Pay for their Mistakes

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Last night a bunch of us attended the touring version of the Broadway musical “Les Miserables” at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts here in Jacksonville. We planned an early dinner before the show at an Irish pub near the theater. Nothing like a plateful of Irish fish and chips before watching a French story of love and revolution, produced by a British billionaire.

Because I chose to stay in the office a little longer than I should have, and also because I made a few wrong turns in downtown Jacksonville amid lots of road construction detours, we ended up at the pub a good bit later than my original plan had envisioned. It was pretty clear that, in order to eat, AND make it to the show before curtain time, we were going to have to, at the very least, violate a number of those rules about chewing slowly and savoring every bite.

Because it enjoys a good reputation, the joint was jumping. So I was particularly relieved that they were able to seat us as soon as we arrived. A moment after we’d all sat down, someone in our party said “We need to tell this waitress we’re in a hurry so she’ll get a move on. Otherwise we’ll be here all night.”

Someone else at the table piped up and said, “If it’s all right, why don’t you let me tell her that? I think I’ll be able to get her to move pretty quickly.”

A few minutes later, the waitress arrived, greeted us exuberantly, and then asked the usual, “Can I get everyone started with something to drink?”

My friend said to the server, in a kind and friendly manner, “We would like to have a long, slow, relaxed dinner tonight,” to which the waitress replied, “Okay…”

And then he continued, “However, we haven’t left enough time for that tonight; we’ll come back another night for a more relaxed dinner. But tonight, if you could help us out by getting rid of us by 7:15, we’d be very appreciative.”

“Gotcha,” she said, with a wink. “Let me go ahead and take your order for everything right now, and then I’ll bring the check as soon as you’ve got your food.” She then kicked it into high gear. We got good service, fast. More efficient than gracious, which is exactly what we needed. We were comfortably seated in the theater a good ten minutes before the orchestra conductor’s first downbeat.

By claiming responsibility for our tardiness, and its consequences, my friend had taken every hint of blame off the very person in whose hands rested the power to get us fed and on our way in time. The waitress was engaged in a challenge to “help us out”, not challenged to “get a move on”, as if she’d been shuffling along before that. As a result, she went above and beyond – out of her way – the extra mile – to give us what we needed. 

Most of our employees know we’re not perfect. We demonstrate that to them on a regular basis. And most are happy to help us out. What they’re not willing to do is to be held responsible when we’ve screwed up.

So, if that should happen, and it will:

  • Apologize, quickly, and without excuses and weasel words.
  • Clean up your own mess
  • If need be, ask for their help. Then recognize it as help. Not an obligation.
  • Thank them when they come through for you. In our case, last night, we enjoyed our fish and chips, and left a whopper of a tip.
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