You are sitting in a posh restaurant and the food is fine. The service is a tad aloof, bordering on haughty – it seems they want to make sure you fully grasp how fortunate you are to be there. The waiter is a bit put off when one of your guests asks if they happen to have Thousand Island dressing, responding (in just the right tone to imply: “…you rube!”), “No sir, we have only the house dressing.” The final check comes for your party of four: $260. Your dinner companion, who is quite concerned about appearing sophisticated enough to warrant being in such an establishment, watches as you take pen in hand and start to fill in the tip amount…(and we think only teenagers fold to social pressure!) so you decide $60 would look good. Over 20%!
The next day you are having lunch with me – likely at a neighborhood dive. The place is crowded, but our soon-to-be waitress greets us warmly and tells us to sit wherever we wish. Between hustling back and forth from the kitchen to the several tables she is caring for, she delivers menus and a couple waters, takes our drink order, and cheerily tells us about the day’s specials. When I ask about Thousand Island dressing she says, “Absolutely, Sweetie!” That gives you the courage to ask about Dorothy Lynch, to which she says, “You bet!” She immediately brings our drinks and soon thereafter delivers our food. She periodically checks back to make sure we are okay and about 15 minutes into our meal, as she is flying around the room, she brings us fresh drinks. Then she stops by to ask if we would like separate checks. We tell her one is fine and our bill arrives shortly thereafter: $17. You plop your credit card down – she promptly picks it up and returns it to you for a signature. The receipt has a hand-written note (above a smile symbol – a small indicator of pride) telling us her name is Dorothy and she hopes we will come back. We continue to talk as you sign the receipt and fill in the tip…$4.
Be honest – how often have you done this? (I know, I know – fancy restaurants have more overhead – well, apparently not enough to have a bottle of Dorothy Lynch in a fridge. :-))
A great mentor to me was a man named General Marty Colladay. I remember the first time we met – it was at a Village Inn in my hometown of Bellevue. The General and I just had cokes, and we talked for almost two hours. A nice young gal took great care of us – checking in to see that we were okay and bringing refills. As we were leaving, I saw the $2 check she had left so I tossed $3 on the table. In the nicest way, General Colladay said, “You know, Kim, we took up one of that young lady’s tables for quite a while – and she treated us great.” Then he took out $10 and added that to what I had left it on the table – for me, a searing formative moment.
General Colladay understood something about leadership that I needed to learn: Effective leaders assertively reward great performance at all levels of the organization, and they reject the restrictions of percentage-based thinking, i.e., rather than base the maximum size of award (e.g., bonus) on a simplistic, percentage-based formula, they use their own judgment to determine an award amount that is deserved and equitable.
I suspect General Colladay would’ve been comfortable leaving a $40 tip at the snooty restaurant; I know he would have enjoyed leaving the extra $20 for Dorothy.
Related: Why Fairness Matters as a Leader – Each employee is unique – so why treat them the same? Dr. H discusses why great leaders always treat their employees fairly.