The Waiter Theory

While I was growing up, my parents always told me to pay attention to how people treat their server, and essentially anyone working in the service industry. You can learn so much about people in studying the way they treat others and how they view certain jobs, status in life, and how they determine a person’s value to them. Some people struggle to find the value in others if they don’t have big titles, money, or have any identifiable benefit to them.  To me, the title surely does not matter. What matters most, is the person behind that title.

According to USA Today, “The CEO who developed the waiter theory is Raytheon, CEO Bill Swanson.  He wrote an excellent booklet that contains 33 short leadership observations, called Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management. He has generously given away 250,000 copies of the book.  Among those 33 rules, there is one that Swanson says never fails. Briefly, a person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or others, is not a nice person.

Swanson says he first noticed this in the 1970’s when he was eating with a man who became “absolutely obnoxious” to a waiter because the restaurant did not stock a particular wine. Summarizing Swanson, he says watch out for people who have situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with and be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.

There is an opportunity to learn from most people that we cross paths with, regardless of income potential or title. Not everyone can be a CEO or a lawyer. To keep the society progressing, we need bakers, janitors, teachers AND CEO’s. Every role and profession is important.  We ALL touch each other’s lives and support one another as we take strides towards our personal and professional goals.  Collectively, through small and large actions, we create change. The CEO needs the janitor as much as the janitor needs the CEO.

We all have wisdom to share and the biggest lesson of all: we should learn to be wise about how we value the people in our lives.  Your value system and ethics need to be consistent at all times regardless of who you are dealing with.  Whether at the office or in your daily life, you never know who that person will become.  This also rings true for people in leadership positions.  Those that treat people unkindly are managers and those that treat people with respect are true leaders. Leaders see opportunity in everyone, hoping that each person will take hold of how they can grow and create change, in the company and in their lives. A great idea can come from a new hire, or an entry-level employee. A true leader sees that and is really listening to everyone on their team or in their organization. Regardless of title, we all can make a difference.

My advice to you: keep sharing, listening and learning. Opportunities are all around you to learn and to share what you know! Even the waiter has more than just food to bring to the table.

Meet our Author!

By Matt Weinrich | Matt is an experienced recruiter dedicated to connecting top talent to career opportunities at Sutherland Global Services. Sync up with him on Linkedin or follow @matt_weinrich

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