Sitting down to dinner with one of my favorite clients in a fancy Italian restaurant, I was really enjoying the conversation. We'd just been served the first course; fresh, delicious endive salad for me, Caesar salad for her. The only very minor complaint I could have made was that the table next to us (where a couple was celebrating their anniversary) was so close, a casual observer would have surely mistaken us for a party of four.
The waiter, no rookie, was negotiating the tight quarters just fine, until returning fron the bar to deliver a glass of red wine to our neighbor's table. He tipped the tray ever-so-slightly, spraying the entire glass on my brand new light blue Armani suit. It was the first time I had worn it. I would tell you what it cost but my husband and I have a don't ask, don't tell policy in our house about that sort of thing and he reads this column.
The wait staff whirled into action. A second waiter whisked away my jacket to apply red wine remover. The manager apologized profusely, offering to send it to the dry cleaner or let me take it home to my own; if the stains weren't removed to my satisfaction, he explained, they would replace it. When it was time for the check, dinner was on them. I left and drove home with a nasty red stain on my jacket and a smile on my face. Never once through the entire ordeal did I feel the slightest bit angry, or even annoyed.
This is not always my M.O. I am not always so patient. In fact, the very next morning I wanted to kill somebody when I walked into a room where 8 or 9 people were just standing around looking at each other, helplessly. The chairs for our event were set up all wrong and we were ten minutes to Wapner - when our guests would be arriving. Everyone seemed, well, paralyzed. My blood pressure was through the roof and I don't even have high blood pressure. (Believe me I didn't keep my thoughts to myself.)
In fairness, there was a lot of miscommunication and I was responsible for some of that. And we were working with hotel staff, people we hadn't met until ten minutes before the event. Having said that...in the context of leadership...
I think what drives a lot of my clients crazy isn't the problem. It's the paralysis. You want people to spring into action and get it done. Why don't they? Frankly, it's on you as the leader. If you haven't made sure people know what to do and empowered them to do it, you're going to get chaos.
That restaurant won me over, because they didn't stand around staring at each other, blaming each other, or wondering what to do. They all knew their parts and played them like a symphony. Hiring the right people is the first step; giving them experience and setting expectations about how to deal with problems is the rest.
BTW, I'm still waiting for the jacket to come back from the cleaners.