the ceo magazine, leadership
Chip R. Bell

I arrived at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta late in the afternoon at the end of a week on the road.  My dress pants needed pressing for an early morning keynote.  Dialing the hotel housekeeping department I was told that someone would be right up to get my trousers.  Moments later, a tiny Asian women in her mid-fifties knocked on my door.  When I gave her my pants she informed me she would have them back to me in less than an hour.  “If you have to leave,” she told me, “your pants will be waiting for you in your closet.”

Forty-five minutes later, she was back.  “Thank you for giving me the honor of pressing your beautiful pants,” she said with excitement and a smile on her face.  “They are some of the nicest pants I have ever pressed.”  I wondered about the source of her gracious style and passionate attitude.  What made Nuriya so guest-centric? 

Then, I got the answer as she continued: “Here is my business card.  Call me anytime and we will take care of your laundry needs.”  Her card revealed her title: “Laundry/Valet.”  But, there was more.  “And, on behalf of the Ritz-Carlton,” she warmly said, “I would like to present you with this package of stays for your shirt collars.” 

I was blown away.  What kind of leadership must be fronting this refined and classy guest service? How many hotel laundry employees on the planet have their own business card plus a special surprise gift for their guests?  It was at that moment I realized leadership was an echo.  Sure, the “sound” of her spirit came from whom she was.  But its capacity to be lively, harmonious and complete emanated from the leader support off of which it bounced.

Great service goes viral when it is echoed from a leader who treats associates exactly the way customers should be treated.  And, a powerful, compelling leadership echo happens when leaders connect directly with employees instead of cocooning in their office or meetings.  It fuels smart execution when employee affirmation is coupled with discipline; generous support is added to well-defined accountability.  And, innovative service is displayed to customers in its purest form when leaders show frontline employees sincere respect and consideration.

I was in a class on counseling many years ago in La Jolla, CA with the renowned psychotherapist Carl Rogers.  When someone asked him about a particular counseling technique, he challenged the person (and everyone in the session) to think about who you are before you focus on what you do.  His guidance was to make practice anchored to persona; technique grounded in purpose.  Most musicians know that when a performer thinks about playing the notes instead of performing the music, all the soul disappears.

The touch of a great leader comes from a compassionate place and seeks to surface goodness in others.  John Longstreet, CEO of Quaker Steak and Lube is fond of saying, “My job is to help all people contribute in a way that brings happiness to themselves and to others.  If I keep focusing on eliminating those things that work against happiness, our guests will be happy and our stakeholders will be happy.”  His company has broken sales records, won prestigious awards and had a super healthy bottom line under his leadership.

The touch of a great leader reaches out to promote entrepreneurship.  When I go to the seafood section at Publix, I get upbeat Susan--someone with the style a self-employed seafood expert.  “You should try my trout; I just got them in this morning,” she will tell me.  Or, “My wild salmon is the best I have been able to get in months.”  I know she probably did not personally order “her” trout or pick out the source for “her” wild salmon.  But, when she speaks in proud, first person pronouns, she makes me think the Publix meat department has been outsourced and she is the owner-CEO.

The touch of a great leader is to nurture passion about a collective purpose.   People do not brag about their rational marriage, their reasonable hobby, or their sensible vacation.  There is rarely “in control” behavior when Junior is seen rounding third base or Jane is delivering a flawless recital.  But in too many organizations, all that spirit is an unwelcomed distraction after the time clock is passed; the closer one gets to mahogany row, the less tolerance there seems to be for “sounds of the heart.”  Yet, passion abounds in organizations that succeed.  Ask the employees at Zappos, Southwest Airlines, USAA, Google or Apple if their CEO has a governor on his or her passion when talking about the company’s mission and vision.

Customers get a peephole into the culture of an organization through their experience with the frontline—online, on the phone or face to face.  Indifferent, unengaged employees spell uncaring leadership.  Bureaucratic systems and draconian policies telegraph bean-counting, self-centered leaders who only care about immediate revenue and not long-term customer loyalty.  What is the sound of your leadership if it is only heard as an echo through the actions and attitudes of your employees?

About the Author

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker, customer loyalty consultant and author of seven national best-selling books.  His newest book is The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service (  He can be reached at 


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