Some people might say that the way to The Top is by stepping on others, or by sacrificing their own personal life for a career, but according to the Waldorf Principle, the way to the top is actually much more simple. Though the Waldorf Principle does involve sacrifice, it involves the good kind of sacrifice or, more accurately, extravagant and sacrificial customer service. But where did the Waldorf Principle come from, and how do we know it works? To answer that, we’re going to share with you a little anecdote:
“One stormy night many years ago, an elderly man and his wife entered the lobby of a small hotel in Philadelphia. Trying to get out of the rain, the couple approached the front desk hoping to get some shelter for the night.
“We’d like a room, please,” they husband requested. The clerk, a friendly man with a winning smile, looked at the couple and explained that there were three conventions in town. “All of our rooms are taken,” the clerk said. “But I can’t send a nice couple like you out in the rain at one o’clock in the morning. Would you perhaps be willing to sleep in my room? It’s not exactly a suite, but it will be good enough to make you folks comfortable for the night.”
When the couple declined, the clerk insisted. “Don’t worry about me; I’ll make out just fine,” he told them. So the couple agreed to spend the night in his room. As he paid his bill the next morning, the elderly man said to the clerk, “You’re an exceptional man. Finding people who are both friendly and helpful is rare these days. You are the kind of manager who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States. Maybe someday I’ll build one for you.”
Two years passed. The clerk was still managing the hotel in Philly when he received a letter from the old man. It recalled that stormy night and enclosed was a round-trip ticket to New York, asking the young man to pay him a visit.
The old man met him in New York, and led him to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. He then pointed to a great new building there, a palace of reddish stone, with turrets and watchtowers thrusting up to the sky. “That,” he said, “is the hotel I’d like you to manage.”
That old man’s name was William Waldorf Astor, and the magnificent structure was the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The clerk who became the first manager was George C. Boldt. This young clerk never foresaw how his simple act of sacrificial service would lead him to become the manager of one of the world’s most glamorous hotels.”
George Boldt’s’ story goes to show that success isn’t found by serving one’s own needs and catering to one’s own comforts, pleasures or desires, and neither is success found by merely doing one’s job; rather, success is achieved by going above and beyond to provide customers with extravagant, sacrificial service.
Think about it: say you are asked to attend a dinner party at a fancy restaurant but cannot find anyone to babysit for your children. You are forced to bring them along with you and are worried about how other patrons are going to react to young children in the dining area. When the host realizes children are in attendance, he rolls his eyes and seats you at the table they had already set up for you, right in the middle of the restaurant. None of the staff go out of their way to make sure that your little ones are entertained or that you, as their parent, are able to enjoy a stress-free time with friends and family. You leave the restaurant vowing never to eat out again (at least until your kids are grown), stressed out and less than impressed with the wait staff.
Now imagine going to that restaurant, same circumstances, but this time the host goes back to fetch the manager when he realizes you have children. He, the manager and a few other employees hurriedly rearrange the tables and set up your party in a private room instead of in the middle of the restaurant. They bring your children crayons and coloring books, and though the restaurant doesn’t have a kid’s menu, they offer to whip up some mac and cheese for them to eat. The waiters are friendly with your children and make you feel comfortable about the whole situation, despite the face that the venue is clearly not accustomed to entertaining children. You leave feeling good about the night and even a bit confident about bring your children out to eat again. When you get home, you promise yourself, you’re going to write a rave review about the restaurant and its staff.
When people go out of their way to serve you, you don’t look down upon them (as people often fear happens)–rather, you respect them and are even in awe of them. You are influenced by them, and you want to spread that influence by recanting the tale of how they served you and going out of your way to make sure they know how much you appreciated their help (by writing a rave review, or sending friends and family to their restaurant or, like Mr. Waldorf, by hiring them).
Believe it or not, but many great leaders have embraced the Waldorf Principle. One such leader is Michael Eisner, the former CEO of Disney. When he was CEO, he would go around Disney and pick up trash. The CEO of Disney would pick up trash. While he could have ordered anyone else to do it, he wanted to spread his influence by humbly serving others – by helping his employees – and by showing his employees that he is not above such “menial” tasks as picking up garbage.
There are all sorts of ways that one can go about obtaining power or achieving influence, and like all things, some paths are better than others. The 7 most common ways to power include Force, Manipulation, Intimidation, Exchange, Persuasion, Motivation and Honor. Exchange is the path most commonly used in today’s society–“I scratch your back, you scratch mine”–and Motivation is the path most commonly seen by career-driven individuals, but Honor, the least utilized path to power, is the best.
Honor is based on a mutual respect between both the server and the one being served, and because of this, it is the path that results in the greatest influence.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody an serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Many great leaders–including Oprah Winfrey, Theodore Roosevelt, Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, Martin Luther King, Jr.–all made a difference by humbly serving others.
If you want to spread your influence and make a genuine difference in this world, start by asking not what you can do for yourself but rather, what you can do for others.
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