I’m in Bora Bora at the Four Seasons Resort for a business meeting (yes, business), a place that qualifies as paradise on earth.  The hotel “rooms” on this enchanting Tahitian island are huts built over the water on concrete stilts.  We are looking across a tranquil, sparkling turquoise bay at a mountain perpetually ringed by clouds.  The resort staff is first rate.  Every time they encounter a guest, whether piloting golf carts that transport people down the long boardwalks or passing them on the pathways, they practically  sing the traditional Tahitian greeting, “Ia Orana” (yo-rah-nah) and it sounds like the old three note NBC bell - en BEE cee.     

The official languages here are Tahitian and French, and while English is widely spoken in hotels and resorts, this traditional native greeting is what charms you.  People are naturally friendly in the way you’d expect on a South Pacific Island, however, when you get outside the resort you realize that this is not just island culture. It’s more a product of a first class hotel that sets high standards and trains people to deliver.

As many of you know, I grew up in the Midwest where greeting strangers is not only acceptable; it’s what you do.  When I moved to the East Coast I quickly realized if I did this indiscriminately, I could be arrested on suspicion I was either crazy or homeless.

My point is that cultural norms like these are learned (and unlearned).  In moving across the country I adapted my behavior.  I still say hello but I try to read people and evaluate they’re receptive. 

In business you can create a culture by setting expectations and hiring and training people against them.  Most powerful is when you model the behaviors yourself.  If you want managers and leaders to champion a mutual respect, to make people feel valued and appreciated, set the expectation, coach them and model it every day.  In Bora Bora, the managers I’ve encountered do this.  Would the staff would be so consistent if they were not?    

If you have stories about leaders (who can remain anonymous) who either did this well, or poorly, I’d be interested in hearing from you.  It’s one aspect I’m exploring for my new book coming out next year.  If you prefer not to leave a reply write me privately at info@bates-communications.com

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