I was sitting in a hotel restaurant having breakfast and preparing myself for a day of back to back meetings. While I was working on my iPhone, a waitress came over and introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Maya and I will be your server this morning. May I get you something to drink?” she inquired. We’ve all heard this question a thousand times when dining at a restaurant. But for some reason, the way she asked me was different. “Let’s start out with some coffee and orange juice,” I said. “Great!” she replied enthusiastically. “I’ll get that for you right away and will be back to take your order.”
“That’s what it was!” I thought to myself. She was smiling. “Big deal, a smiling waitress,” you may be thinking. “Waitresses are supposed to smile. This doesn’t sound like something that’s so incredibly noteworthy.”
Normally it wouldn’t be, but this smile was different. You see, it wasn’t like one of those smiles you’re forced to put on when talking with customers, but a truly authentic smile. I could tell because it was coming from the inside. This woman was genuinely happy. “Okay, duly noted and dismissed.” I acknowledged the observation, yet felt compelled to get back to my e-mails as quickly as possible, before the coffee and food came.
Maya returned a few minutes later with my beverages and took my order. “Another one out and 20 more to go,” I thought. I had just hit the Send button on the fourth e-mail I managed to respond to before someone else came over to my table and began talking to me. “Good morning!” a friendly voice said. This time, it wasn’t the waitress, but someone else who worked at the restaurant. A middle-aged woman had intentionally stopped at my table rather than continuing to walk by. I returned her smile and wished her a hearty good morning as well. I wanted to get back to my e-mails. Apparently, this was not part of her agenda. She didn’t let me.
“I love your glasses,” she said.
“Thank you,” I answered quickly, doing my best to be polite while trying to let her know I was a bit busy, knee-deep in my daily dose of morning e-mails. “Couldn’t she see I was working?” I thought to myself. I sensed myself getting a little annoyed that my daily regimen was being disrupted, then challenged that feeling for a moment. In a world where we need to question people’s motives, was this person being truly sincere? I gave her the benefit of the doubt and began to further engage her in conversation. She had made herself more comfortable, leaning next to the booth beside me, obviously eager for a conversation with me.
“So, are you here on business?”
“Yes,” still convinced I could cut this conversation short, until she formally introduced herself and proceeded to talk about her children. When that happens, I can’t help but be interested.
“By the way, I’m Tracy. I manage this restaurant. Where are you from?”
I put my iPhone down, surrendering to Tracy’s persistence in wanting to have a dialogue. “New York.”
“Oh, what a fun place to visit. I have two girls. It’s my youngest one who goes to college out east. She’s in her second year at Cornell. We had a chance to go into Manhattan when we were visiting her at school.”
“My oldest daughter is about to graduate from UCLA and has already started the job interview process.” Tracy continued, but with a different tone in her voice. “It is so tough out there to find a job that you not only love to do but can make a good living doing it.” I could not only hear concern in her voice but I could see it in her eyes: the concern and protective instincts only a mother could project when worrying about her children.
At this point, my iPhone was back in my coat pocket, and I was practically ready for my second cup of coffee as Tracy continued telling me about her kids. Tracy had enrolled me in a conversation with her, but it was more than just a friendly exchange of words and pleasantries. Tracy and I were connecting.
“I just don’t get it,” Tracy shared, allowing her frustrations to surface. “These companies want to hire someone with a great education and experience. But other than holding some entry-level positions or finding a great internship, where are you going to get the experience if you can’t get an opportunity to learn on the job and prove what you’re capable of doing? They all say she has what it takes, except the experience.”
I looked Tracy in the eye and said, “Tracy, I completely understand how you feel. However, I want you to know, your daughters will do just fine. They’re not only going to make it, they are going to thrive. I know it.”
My comment must have reinforced or reminded Tracy about the peace of mind and confidence she always had about her kids. “Thank you, Keith, but how do you know they’ll be just fine? How can you say that with such certainty?”
I smiled at Tracy and asked her a question I already knew the answer to. “Tracy, are your children anything like you?”
She thought for a moment and smiled, “Why, yes, they are very much like me. My husband says they get their drive and bubbly enthusiasm from my side of the family.”
“Tracy, your daughters are very lucky to have a mom like you. And if they sell themselves, that is, come across the way you do and share who they are naturally, people will notice the gifts, value, and talents they can bring to any position they apply for.”
“Oh, you are so sweet for saying that. Thank you.” Tracy’s response was heartfelt. I could tell that she really listened to what I said and took it in rather than hearing my observation on a superficial level and dismissing it.
Tracy and I continued our discussion for another few minutes until she got called away by the hostess to handle an issue with another customer. I turned back to finish my breakfast. It had cooled off since the waitress came by and served it during the time I was talking with Tracy. But it was worth it. Yes, I made a difference that morning in someone’s life.
As Tracy walked away, I glanced around the restaurant. Now that I was out of my head, or should I say, out of my iPhone, I started noticing more of what was happening around me than I had when I first walked into the restaurant that morning. I took a visual inventory of each person working in that restaurant. It was not just Tracy and Maya who were smiling. Everyone who worked there was smiling. The two hostesses at the front entrance were smiling, even if there were no guests for them to greet at the moment. Every busboy, waiter, and waitress was smiling, whether they were taking an order, serving a meal, or walking back to the kitchen where nobody could see them (unless you were like me and were purposely looking).
Everything is relevant and every conversation you have is of vital importance. Even though some may seem trivial to you, each is deeply influential when compounded over time.
The atmosphere, tone, and culture created within a company lead back to the efforts, actions, and behavior of one person—the manager.
Before you determine that you can’t make a difference, before you conclude that you don’t have enough power, think about Tracy. She is a manager who makes a difference every day with the people she meets. Not because of her experience or her training. Tracy makes an impact on people because she does something that other people, more specifically, other managers, are not willing to do or care to do: establish an honest, authentic connection with people. This is why I knew Tracy’s kids would be fine.
Leaving Your Legacy as a Manager
The experience I had with Tracy, a restaurant manager, made me think about the other managers I know. Interestingly, the one thing I rarely, if ever, hear from salespeople is how much they’ve loved their prior managers. Think about your career and the path you’ve traveled, which brought you to where you are today. Reflect on managers you have had in the different positions you’ve held. Now, ask yourself the following questions.
- <!–[if !supportLists]–>How many managers have you had that inspired you to live your greatness?
- <!–[if !supportLists]–>How many managers throughout your career have you connected with on a deeper level outside of what needs to be done to maintain your sales numbers? A level where loyalty, trust, friendship, and a mutual respect are developed and cherished?
- <!–[if !supportLists]–>How many of your prior managers have truly changed your life and career for the better?
- <!–[if !supportLists]–> <!–[endif]–>Do you still maintain a relationship with any managers you had in your prior positions?
If you want to make a difference, a positive impact that can be felt and measured by your team, first start by making a strong connection with your people. Establishing a common ground and sharing personal experiences foster a deeper connection, leaving your salespeople with the feeling, “We are the same. He really understands me.”
This connection you develop with your people then leads to trust, loyalty, respect, and the authentic desire to want to succeed for themselves, for their team, and for you as their manager.
Before you can make a difference, you have to make a connection. The most effective way to make a connection is by sharing yourself, your humanity, even your vulnerability with others.