As a teenager, Office Depot CEO Steve Odland worked as
a waiter. One evening he spilled a purple sorbet onto a woman's
white dress- and expected the worst.
But the lady was gracious
and let him
off with a reassuring, "It's OK, it wasn't your
fault." Odland never forgot the experience and has since made it a
principle: You can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she
treats the waiter.
A great many other CEOs have learned the same
lesson and use it in evaluating potential employees or when
deciding on which junior executives to advance.
The rule may have appeared first in a 1944 book
entitled "The Unwritten Laws of Engineering" by W.J.
King, a UCLA professor. Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson was so impressed that he
plagiarized from King's book in creating a popular
booklet he called: Swanson's Unwritten Rules of
Management. (Swanson was penalized by the Raytheon
board for his plagiarism. See Wall Street Journal,
5/4/04, p. B7.)
|A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter...is not a nice person
One of King's rules, as Swanson
reported it, is: "A person who is nice to you but rude
to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person
(This rule never fails.)"
The worst are those who are rude to people in
subordinate roles, such as hotel maids, bellmen and
Readers of this website are probably not surprised
by this information. A person who is cordial, or even
obsequious to others at his level or higher, but rude and
obnoxious to those he perceives as "underlings," demonstrates lack of
self-esteem and confidence. Many CEOs make a point to observe how
potential employees conduct themselves with waiters,
and the like because they have learned that this
predictive information about the person. Rudeness to
the waiter or secretary indicates future rudeness to workers in the
company. That implies unhappy employees and lost productivity. Why
hire a person like that?
I am not suggesting that you be nice to waiters just
to improve your job prospects. Be nice to waiters and other
working people because it's the right thing to do. (One's
ethics should be applied consistently regardless of who the
other party is.) Much good and no harm will come from it.
My own story
My own waiter story is about an event some years ago
in a newly opened restaurant on the Sunset Strip.
It was a busy
lunchtime and the operation was suffering growing pains, resulting
in some mistakes and delay in our order. The young waiter
(probably an aspiring actor) apologized for this and I reassured
him by saying, "Don't worry, we're all in this together, so we'll
work it out satisfactorily, I'm sure."
We got helpful and excellent service thereafter. That
was long before the Internet and this web site came along, but
I think I was following a sound principle.
When dealing with waiters, clerks,
bellmen or whatever, enroll them in a team effort of equals
working together to achieve your objective.
[Information for this article appeared at