How often have you been fortunate enough to see leadership in action?

You know it when you see it because it’s extraordinary. While on a recent business trip, I experienced such a moment.

I stayed at the beautifully renovated Holiday Inn in the heart of Toronto. The property had spacious white and grey marble tiled lobby, colorful contemporary furniture, and tasteful lighting. It was open and inviting with several restaurants, a specialty coffee shop, travel agency, and a day spa that looked so inviting.

I took the elevator to the 16th floor, went to room 1606, scanned my key, and entered a small, newly decorated room with an okay view of downtown. As this would be my home for the next nine days I plopped on the bed and smiled approvingly of the comfortable mattress and soft pillows.

The room was chilly on this October evening so I turned on the heat. To my dismay, cold air blew from the vents. I called the front desk and I was told that the heat wasn’t on yet. As the story goes, the HVAC system was designed to have either air conditioning or heat on but not the two simultaneously.

After one night of sleeping with a long sleeved shirt and socks, I called the front desk clerk again and said it was chilly in my room. She told me that the hotel had just turned the heat on. I told her my unit wasn’t working, so they sent a maintenance man.  After several failed attempts he said, in broken English with a heavy French accent, that a specialist would come in the morning. He left a portable heater which I turned off because it filled my room with the odor of a musty boiler room.

The second maintenance man, “the spécialiste,” came the next day with another smelly heater, telling me the heat was still not operational. I told him I was confused about the hotels conflicting stories in the last two days. He simply shrugged his shoulders and said with an empathetic demeanor as far as he knew, no heat as of yet. I tilted my head and looked at him, the same way your dog might look at you when he’s confused or curious. Being an executive coach who works with leaders and teams, I felt it was important to let management know what was happening on their watch.

So, I called and asked to speak to the hotel manager, a woman named Serena who wasn’t available but, promptly returned my call.

“May I give you some feedback on the communication of your team in my first few days here?” I said. “Please. Yes,” she anxiously replied. I explained how her team wasn’t on the same page regarding the heating system. I also pointed out that more than likely, they’re sending mixed messages to other guests. I told her I couldn’t trust anything her team told me from this point forward. Where to eat, suggestions on entertainment, where to purchase an odorless space heater, etc.

She listened intently without interrupting, a quality I recognize because as an executive coach, listening is what I do best. Serena assured me the heat was operational and she said she’d make things right. “Can you check back with me during the lunch hour?” she asked. I said of course. Then I dashed out of the hotel, to a rainy cool Toronto morning, and quickly walked to my workshop a few blocks away.

After my morning session, I returned to the hotel and called the front desk. A pleasant woman told me I was being moved to another room and that Serena, the manager, was going to meet me. She came to the business center, the other end of the hotel, where I was checking emails and voice mails. A mature, well-dressed Gen Y’er, she politely apologized for the miscommunication. She spoke in a sincere soft toned manner and I sensed she was genuinely thankful for my feedback. We went to the front desk and Serena began the check in process and said with a smile “You’re going to really like this room; it’s bigger and a lot nicer.” She upgraded me to a suite: Living room with a white leather couch, hardwood floors, master bath, fridge, microwave, and two large HD TVs!! (that’s a photo of -the- room)

Serena’s actions rang loud and clear: She’s a leader. She took the time to listen; I mean really listen, as if I was a VIP or dignitary. She demonstrated humility, which is the number one attribute of the greatest leaders.

She followed up with her team, explained what had happened, and got everyone on the same page. Then she went the extra mile and took the time to meet and thank me. And lastly she personally checked me into the new spacious room.

Leadership: The people you’re working with and serving will know it when they see it.

(Read more about leadership and humility in Jim Collins book “Good to Great.”)






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