Friday, April 14, 2006


How Do You Treat
People Who Have
No Power Over You?


'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

Here's an article about how CEO's of major corporations seem to be in consensus on the issue of how people treat waiters:


... it seems to be one of those rare laws of the land that every CEO learns on the way up. It's hard to get a dozen CEOs to agree about anything, but all interviewed agree with the Waiter Rule.

They acknowledge that CEOs live in a Lake Wobegon world where every dinner or lunch partner is above average in their deference. How others treat the CEO says nothing, they say. But how others treat the waiter is like a magical window into the soul.

And beware of anyone who pulls out the power card to say something like, "I could buy this place and fire you," or "I know the owner and I could have you fired." Those who say such things have revealed more about their character than about their wealth and power.

Whoever came up with the waiter observation "is bang spot on," says BMW North America President Tom Purves, a native of Scotland, a citizen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, who lives in New York City with his Norwegian wife, Hilde, and works for a German company. That makes him qualified to speak on different cultures, and he says the waiter theory is true everywhere.

The CEO who came up with it, or at least first wrote it down, is Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson. He wrote a booklet of 33 short leadership observations called Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management. Raytheon has given away 250,000 of the books.

Among those 33 rules is only one that Swanson says never fails: "A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person."

Swanson says he first noticed this in the 1970s when he was eating with a man who became "absolutely obnoxious" to a waiter because the restaurant did not stock a particular wine.

"Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with," Swanson writes. "Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles."


I learned this rule a long time ago myself. A man told me that character is not defined by the way a person treats people who are above them on the social ladder, but by how they treat those who would be perceived as below them.

I have, unfortunately, gone the opposite direction in my life. I tend to be very polite to people who have no power over me, and often very rude to those who can actually do me harm.

That's smart, huh?

I wonder what I think I'm accomplishing with that?