How often do you pour the water?

Pouring water.jpg

My wife and I hit the town recently for our wedding anniversary. We went to a fabulous restaurant in Melbourne called Coda. It was a stinking hot night, and as we descended the steps into the dark basement (oh so Melbourne) you immediately got the sense that you’d arrived at one of the busiest spots in town.

Just inside the door stood a young hipster host, who greeted us with a big smile on his face. Before we knew it, a waiter in a brown apron also arrived, introduced himself as Michael, turned to the hipster host and said, “Boss, are you happy for me to take these folks through to their table?” With a wave of his hand, Michael invited us into the restaurant, settling us in at the table, offering menus and then poured us some water. He pointed to another waiter and said with a strong tone of admiration: “That’s Steve, this is his wine list, he knows it inside out. He’ll be able to help you with any questions at all. I’ll ask if he can come on over and see you.

As Michael walked away from our table, I turned to my wife and said, “You can really tell he’s a career waiter. He obviously enjoys what he does.

We didn’t see much more of Michael that night, other than watching him play a similar role at other tables, and occasionally topping up our water glasses.

Later in the evening, I was telling our food waiter how impressed I was by the service – in particular, the team work between staff – and I asked him what made it a good place to work. He told us how great it was to work at a restaurant where the owner is interested enough to put on an apron and pitch in, and have some fun with the team. That’s when he pointed to Michael. Or, as it turns out, Mykal.

For a moment, I was speechless. I would never have picked it. Mykal – the guy in the apron who was pouring our water, the guy who talked the other staff up and then disappeared - was one of the owners of this supercool, packed-to-the-rafters restaurant. 

So why do I share that story? Because I’ve got a bit of a thing for humility in leadership. I just reckon it speaks volumes about a leader when he or she shuns the executive suite, and just ‘mucks in’. Teams love it. Customers love it. And it sets a great example for every other leader.

In his must-read book on leadership, Legacy, James Kerr tells how the New Zealand All Blacks live by a philosophy of “Sweep the Sheds”. Put simply, no player is so talented or special that he doesn't need to tidy up after himself. And so they all take it in turns to “sweep the sheds” – or change rooms – after every game. It’s a symbolic act that illustrates the role of ego in a high performing team. The All Blacks story sprang to mind for me when I reflected on Mykal at Coda.

So, if you’re a manager, what’s your equivalent of “pouring the water” or “sweeping the sheds”? And what can you do today that has a similar impact on people in your team?

I’d love to hear your thoughts – please leave your response below.


PS. Thanks to Mathias for the photo used in this month's post.