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Roger Martin
Dean/Scholar

Roger Martin

Roger Martin is Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and author, most recently, of The Design of Business. His website is www.rogerlmartin.com

'Four Seasons' Service

This harkens back to my answer to your question in December 2008 on Obama's dealings with Blagojevich in Chicago:

"The more he inadvertently implies that he is infallible, the more he causes his constituents to think their god - Obama - can and should take responsibility for being perfect and taking care of everything, and that their job is just to sit back and watch. That is an unhelpful misallocation of responsibilities, with Obama as over-responsible and the American electorate as under-responsible. It goes downhill from there as the American people sit back and criticize Obama ever more stridently for not being perfect."

The same applied here and he handled it perfectly. He called Crowley "stupid" without knowing the whole story. That was a mistake. He called it a mistake rather than justifying it somehow and then showed his genuine remorse by inviting Crowley to the White House for a beer. Perfect. The president makes mistakes, recognizes them and does his best to correct them as quickly and thoroughly as he can. What's not to like about that?

The core leadership lesson is that a leader like Obama has to think about his impact on his followers, not just himself. In this case, Obama succeeded by not encouraging his followers to think he is fundamentally more perfect than them. Rather, he was "leaderly" by showing them what they can do when they make a mistake. Don't pull out a gun, offer a beer!

There is broad business application for this thinking, by the way. Four Seasons Hotels has a widespread reputation for having the best service in the entire luxury hotel space worldwide. People think it is because they make fewer mistakes with guests than their competitors because they take a more serious approach to service than anybody else. That is wrong. They make as many mistakes. But they have a deeply ingrained culture of recognizing their mistakes and making up for the mistake in ways (e.g. free theatre tickets, bottle of champagne, etc.) that make the guest in question thankful that the mistake was made in the first place.

Which do with think Crowley would prefer if given the choice: a) never having been mentioned on national television; or b) being called stupid on national television by the President of the United States, then apologized to on national television by the president, then invited to the White House for a beer with the president? I would guess it is b) by a large margin. That is both great leadership and fabulous guest service - Four Seasons style.

By Roger Martin

 |  August 3, 2009; 11:44 AM ET
Category:  Making mistakes Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The president said that the Cambridge police behaved stupidly. I can behave stupidly but that does not mean I am stupid. Someone can say that I have behaved stupidly - it does not mean that someone called me stupid.

Why are so many (intelligent) people getting such a simple concept so glaringly wrong?

Posted by: hmfmcg | August 4, 2009 4:19 PM
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