Can You Pass The More Human Leadership Test?

bigstock-Coffeeshop--barista-in-cafe-w-33247829“A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person. (This rule never fails).”

– Jim Swanson, from Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management

A big part of being a more human leader is showing respect – for the people you lead, and for the jobs that they do.

It should be a very natural thing to do, BECAUSE it’s such a human thing.

There are circumstances that really test this kind of leadership, and the most interesting thing about them is that they occur outside the workplace.

That is, they take place in everyday life.

You can learn so much about more human leadership by spending time in restaurants, coffee shops, supermarkets, and retail stores.     Just watch the interactions between the customer service providers and the customers.

You can easily see if the customers respect the person and the work, by the way they treat the customer service staff.

Let’s use a very Portland example (since I live here) – the espresso shop.   The popular ones typically have long lines, and the baristas and counter staff are usually very busy.   Because of this, mistakes can happen.  An order may be misunderstood, or sometimes, misplaced.  The milk may be too cold, or too hot.  Or, it could be the wrong milk.

When problems occur, the “more humans” I observe take them in stride – they understand.  They even try to make light of the situation, or express empathy to the staff person.   And even more likely, they address the staff by their first names.

How did they know that?  They took the time to find out – that’s a real sign of respect.

They made a personal connection.    And, on top of everything else, they use words like “please” and “thank you”, and leave gratuities.

Those people pass the test, because if they exhibit this behavior at an espresso shop, it’s going to be the same way in the workplace.  For me, that rule never fails.

The bonus of all this applies both in the espresso bar AND the workplace – that personal connection leads to better performance.

In the workplace, your respect translates to a more motivated and inspired teammate, because they respect you.

At the espresso bar, your respect translates to higher quality service, because they respect you.

I know this because I’m on a first name basis with many baristas in town – a good many of whom I now call my friends.   They make sure I have the right drink, at the right size, and at the right temperature.  I’ve invested in their well being, and they in turn take the time to invest in mine.

We chat about our lives, our days, and our families.   We are both more human.

And if I’m in a leadership situation, I’m the same way.  More human.

Take the time to watch more customer and customer service provider interactions in your daily life, and see who passes the more human leadership test.

And then see if YOU pass the test.

Lead well!

(For more interesting reading about this, and to see all of Jim Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management, check out this great article from USA Today)

(Photo by Bigstock)





  1. says

    Terry, I’d agree with you most of the time. However, there is something called “get what they want.” If they feel kindness gets them there quicker and will get them recognized for their kindness, this is the route they’ll pursue. However, the real test occurs before they go up to the counter to get something changed and when they come back to the table. Do they say,

    Judy was so nice, she took care of my as she always does.” Or do they come back to the table and complain how inconvenient it was…

    I’d suggest there is a double test – at the counter and at the table.

  2. says

    Hi Rod, thanks for your comment. I hear you on the “double test” – the behavior has to be consistent everywhere, at the counter and at the table.
    Appreciate the feedback!
    All the best,

  3. says

    Terry, although you make a good point, people (including customers, male and female waiters, bosses, kings and presidents) have their good days and bad days.

    There are plenty of nice, capable folks that I would rather not assign to certain tasks or scenarios. There are plenty of reasonably nice folks who will never be perceived as civil, or treated civilly due to the position or circumstances in which they find themselves. Finally, there are some decidedly unpleasant folks who are nevertheless visionary, exemplary leaders notorious for their character, good judgement, mercy and acts of charity.

    I have often enough been in a position in which I must judge another’s attributes, abilities, performance, character, leadership, etc., but I have never found a magic bullet (salts their food before tasting it, rude to waiters, calls servers “waiters”, etc.) suitable for infallible snap judgement of another’s worth as functionary, leader or canon fodder.

    So, in my humble (and fallible) opinion, nice is nice, but it’s not everything.

  4. says

    I tend to agree with you. If they are rude to the waiter, they are not the people I want in my life. It really doesn’t matter if they are having a bad day or not. If they act that way to the waiter, they are going to act that way to you one time or another.

    It is a matter of someone taking responsibility for themselves and the behavior they exhibit.Life is too short to go through it with people who behave badly.

  5. says

    Hi Paul, thanks for your comments. I agree, nothing is infallible when it comes to judging character; but in my experience, this way comes pretty close. And, I too have been around (and worked for) those “decidedly unpleasant folks”. They may be visionary and exemplary, but in my opinion, not more human. That’s my distinction that is certainly open to debate, and I welcome it. Thanks so much for jumping in, and all the best.


  6. says

    Hi Mike, thanks for adding to the discussions on this post. It’s a great debate to have, in my view. There is a consistency of action element here that has to be considered.
    All the best,

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