Real Leaders

Managers Push, Leaders Inspire

Cofounder and former president of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and mogul in the service world, Horst Schulze, offers a timely message on leadership. Here he distills some of the principles that guided him through six decades of success — lessons that can propel anyone on the path toward excellence by caring for people above profits.

Organizational leaders all over the world instinctively assume that many of their employees are reluctant donkeys who need a shove from behind, while only a minority are motivated to get moving on their own initiative. The leaders might not put it this bluntly, of course. But deep down inside, it’s how they’re thinking. They assume this is just the burden of leadership. Thankfully, we’ve gotten past the days of snarling slave drivers with whips. 

Methods to raise productivity have gotten more nuanced in our time. But is this really the best we can do? Who will do a better job: the employee who “has to” because the boss is breathing down his neck or the employee who wants to do the job? Obviously, it would be the latter. 

Once you or I take an employee on board, it is our job to lead them to want to be connected to the overall goal. As more people, from the lowest ranks to the highest, understand customer desires and want to meet them efficiently, our overall success will swell — and our personal heartburn will lessen. 

What I Believe 

I believe we were all made with two fundamental desires: (1) purpose and (2) relationship. We’re not designed to flounder aimlessly through life. We’re hardwired to want to do something of value. It may be anything from painting a picture to building a toolshed to flying to the moon. 

We’ve been programmed to seek to achieve in some area so we can look back with pride and say, “I did that.” Along the way, we crave relationships with other human beings. We want to connect, to talk, to be heard, to interact, to gain new ideas, to help another person, and, yes, even to love. The task of any business leader is to accept these two realities and channel them into his or her work. I like what James Autry, former president of the Meredith Corporation (publisher of a dozen or more national magazines), wrote in one of his books: “Business, like art and science, has been revealed and conceived through the intellect and imagination of people, and it develops or declines because of the intellect and imagination of people.”

In fact, there is no business; there are only people. Business exists only among people and for people. Seems simple enough, and it applies to every  aspect  of business, but not enough business people seem to get it. Reading the economic forecasts and the indicators and the ratios and the rates of this or that, someone from another planet might actually believe that there really are invisible hands at work in the marketplace. 

(1) Never try to laugh off a customers problem or crack a joke. (2) If you get a complaint, own it immediately. (3) Don’t say “they” or “them”; instead, say “I.” (4) Ask for forgiveness. Go ahead and spit out the words: “Please forgive me.” (5) Don’t appeal to the policy manual, as in, “Well, our guidelines say that…” (6) Don’t try to parade your expertise, as in, “Well, the reason this happened is because the system is set up to recognize certain signals and blah blah blah…” 

It’s easy to forget what the measurements are measuring. Every number — from productivity rates to salaries — is just a device contrived by people to measure the results of the enterprise of other people. For managers, the most important job is not measurement but motivation. And you can’t motivate numbers. That last sentence deserves to be put in bold type and capital letters. We who lead businesses and organizations are not in the numbers game! We’re in the people game — dealing with customers, employees, colleagues, owners, and all the rest for the best possible outcomes. 

If you don’t believe people have a bedrock yearning for purpose and relationship, then you may turn into something very dark — an exploiter of people. Your days, weeks, months, and years become one power play after another, taking advantage of every chance you get to extract talent and money for your own benefit. People quickly come to distrust you. Their opportunities to blossom, to be excellent in what they do, are squeezed time and again. They begin to shrivel on the inside, or else they run away to a healthier environment. I will go so far as to draw this distinction: Managers push; leaders inspire. 

If you are just shoving and watchdogging and reprimanding your employees, don’t call yourself a leader. Stop and ask yourself how you can change to be an inspiration to those in your charge. 

Beyond Pep Talk 

Inspiring employees to have a positive attitude about their work does not, however, mean resorting to rah-rah language and euphemisms. In fact, such verbiage can work against us, causing cynicism. 

You may remember your high school days of reading George Orwell’s famous novel 1984, with its newspeak vocabulary of terms such as joycamp — in actuality, a grim forced-labor camp. 

Here are just a few examples from today’s organizational jargon: 

“We’re a team!” That is, of course, a very good idea — if the team members are unified around a common objective. A football team exists for a greater purpose than just wearing special uniforms and high-fiving each other. Its whole point is to cross the goal line and get into the end zone more times than the opponent. Each player has a role to play in helping make that happen. A team also lives by certain rules. They have to show up for practices at the appointed times. They have to memorize the playbook. They have to do what the coach requires. 

Bosses who flippantly roll out the “team speech” without an underlying objective or set of expectations that everyone understands and embraces are just wasting their breath. Have you ever wondered why people choose to retire? Too many times it is because they’ve spent a lifetime working but never sensing that their effort contributed to anything meaningful. They just spent their time at work occupying a function. And now they’re eager to get out of that box.

“You’re all associates!” This is the new upgrade term for employees. My question is, “Associated to what?” Does the person have any sense of being tied into something larger, integrated into a cause or goal? If not, it won’t matter what their clip-on name tag says. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve consulted at a company where everyone was called an “associate” and randomly asked, “So, what’s the objective of this company? What are you associated to?” — only to get blank stares. People couldn’t frame any kind of coherent response. They had no idea. 

“We’re a family!” The term family is a very precious, deeply emotional word. It brings up feelings of love, safety, caring, protection, enrichment, identity, and heritage. Even if someone’s family of origin was not the healthiest, they still carry within their hearts a notion of what they wish their home had been like. For a workplace to call itself a family is to stake a lofty claim. It means the people here truly care about each other, look out for one another’s interests, seek to develop one another’s talents, and believe the best about their coworkers. Until this is a reality, the word is not suitable. When companies hold summer picnics and Christmas parties, they are making headway at creating a sense of belonging. That is a good start, and much more can be done to encourage a true family setting. 

“Service always implies caring. If we settle for lesser goals — meeting the budget, for example, or safeguarding our jobs in a tough economy — we will miss the most important work.”

When I was growing up in Germany, a man named Wilhelm Furtwängler was arguably the greatest symphony conductor of the century. His Berlin Philharmonic was incredible. He bravely stayed in Germany through almost all of World War II, giving the Nazis fits because he wouldn’t endorse their vile ideology. He refused to give the Nazi salute or to sign his letters “Heil Hitler!’ like everyone else. The Reich would like to have gotten rid of him, but they didn’t dare, because his music was so revered. 

Years later, I saw a television interview of an American musician who, after the war ended, rushed to Germany to get hired in this man’s orchestra. He was asked to describe the experience. 

“Let me recall the first day,” he replied. “I was standing in the back of the rehearsal hall studying my score, since I was due to join the next set. But I could not concentrate; I realized I had never heard music like that. It went to a level I didn’t think was humanly possible. It gave me chills. I looked closer and saw that it was not an assistant conducting the rehearsal; it was Furtwängler.”

This musician did not cross the ocean from America to Germany for a paycheck. It was all for the soaring thrill of excellence. 

Great leaders hold great expectations, which they will not compromise. But this does not deter their followers. Yes, the followers may sigh sometimes and say it’s hard to please the leader, but in their hearts they know it is worth the effort. They, too, want to be the best. And they want their family and friends to admire them as a result. 

It Pays Off 

Not long ago, I attended a grand reopening for a hotel in Bali, Indonesia, that used to be a Ritz-Carlton. Now the owners had asked Capella to come in and manage it instead. There was a massive reception with hundreds of important people present — politicians, village leaders, tour operators, travel agents, you name it. I was invited to give a little speech about our dreams for the future of this establishment. Afterward, a shy, young Indonesian waited around to talk to me. “Do you have a minute, Mr. Schulze? I know you are a very busy man.” 

“Yes, of course you can talk to me,” I replied. “Mr. Schulze, I was a banquet waiter when you opened this hotel as a Ritz-Carlton,” he began. “I was at the orientation you did, standing at the back and listening carefully. And after you left, I came up and took the flipcharts you had drawn. I went home and studied them again. I can still repeat every word you said. Now I am the general manager of a hotel in Ubud [one of Bali’s most famous tourist destinations], up in the mountains. I just want to thank you.” 

What a fulfilling moment for me. It made my day — or even more so, it made my year. As I reflected later, I thought back to how that first maître d’ had inspired me as a teenager to care for guests. Now history was repeating itself. 

I had learned not to focus on the dollars, but to focus instead on the things that make the dollars. Whenever I do an orientation, I always pray that at least one person will “get it” — that they’ll take what I’ve said and internalize it and then go out and apply it for their future. In this case, that prayer was answered. 

Inspiring employees is vital to an organization’s success. And sometimes it bears more fruit than we could ever imagine.

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