There are a few things in my work life that have had a big impact on how I treat other people, and this human leadership experience is one of them:
When I was in my late twenties, I was running a small property investment business with a friend and had a meeting with a building society based in Scotland.
A boardroom encounter
We went up to their head office for a meeting with the Chief Executive and five other senior folks. The Chief Exec was a guy in his late 50s and softly spoken.
In their boardroom one of their catering team brought in tea, coffee and biccies and left them on the sideboard in the room.
Then there was some kind of Mexican stand-off! No one at the table got up to get a drink – as if they were all too important to fetch it themselves.
It would have been funny if I hadn’t been so thirsty. I mean, what’s all that about anyway?!
…but then the Chief Exec got up and brought the cups and drinks to the table. He served everyone around the table, and then brought the plate of biscuits over and put it in the middle.
The whole time he was pouring tea, he carried on talking, then he sat down again and we carried on with the meeting.
Human leadership includes service
The Boardroom Tea Episode (as it will be referred to in my autobiography some day) stayed in my mind because his simple act of serving drinks suddenly made the others at the table behave differently. One started passing round the milk, someone else reached for the biscuits and offered them to everyone.
Although this was the only time I met this man, I got the feeling that pouring tea wasn’t the only way in which he put himself out for his team, and I had a lot of respect for him because of that one simple action.
Service is an important part of leadership. Sometimes it means fighting for better treatment for your people, sometimes it means doing little things for them yourself.
These days I try to be the one to pour the tea.