Servant Leadership: Persuasion

Each month The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center (RCLC) asks leadership experts questions about servant leadership. Our topic for May is how servant leaders use persuasion rather than an authoritarian style of leadership. This month’s servant-leader experts are:

  • Daniel Pink, New York Times bestselling author and named as one of the top 10 business thinkers in the world in 2015
  • Tanveer Naseer, Award-winning leadership writer and keynote speaker

RCLC: A servant leader tends to be less authoritarian and more persuasive or influential. What are the pros and cons of each of these methods?

Daniel Pink: The problem with authoritarian leadership is that it’s a form of control. And human beings have only two reactions to control. We comply or we defy. But what most leaders really want from the people on their teams is for them to be engaged and committed. The way to do that, in many cases, is for the leader to serve the team by providing opportunities for self-direction, helping people make progress, and allowing them to make a difference in the world or a contribution to others.

Tanveer Naseer: One pro that comes with favoring influence over using authority to lead people is that your focus is less on you and more on how do you connect what matters to those you lead with what you need to accomplish. The con that leaders need to be careful of, though, is falling into the trap that in order to gain influence we need to be popular.

Remember, what people need is trust in your integrity to do what you say you’ll do and how you’ll support them to succeed. In so doing, you’ll be able to influence others because those you lead will better understand where you’re coming from. And even if they don’t understand the long view, they will trust that you have their needs and their organization’s best interests at heart.

RCLC: What lessons have you learned or have you observed that have affected how you persuade your colleagues?

Daniel Pink:Perhaps the biggest is attunement. I’m not sure we naturally take another person’s perspective, but I’ve found it’s a key to persuasion. So I try to get out of my own head and see things from the other person’s point of view. What are they thinking? What are their interests? How can I find common ground?

Tanveer Naseer: One of the lessons I’ve learned about how to persuade others is that you can’t approach it as though it’s a zero-sum game; that one of you has to lose for the other to win. If you want to persuade those you lead, you need to understand what matters to them. What are their pain points and concerns, and how does your proposal impact or address them.

The easiest thing a leader can do is fall back on their title or position as the reason why others should follow their decisions. While your employees may fall in line, they won’t be fully invested in the decision and consequently, they’re not bringing their best efforts to the table.

That’s why we need to be able to persuade those under our care by connecting what matters to them to what matters to our organization.

RCLC: If a servant leader has a strong vision about the direction the organization should take, can the leader move forward without consensus? Or will that undermine trust and influence in the future?

Daniel Pink: It depends. Sometimes consensus is the enemy of excellence. Wait too long to get everyone on board—and the train might leave without you. So the context is key here. There are certain high-stakes decisions that require everyone feeling comfortable and agreeing with the course of action. But in many other cases, it makes more sense to have a robust discussion and make sure everyone’s voice is truly heard — and then pick the best path, even if some disagree.

Tanveer Naseer: I think leaders can absolutely move forward with their vision if they don’t have consensus — if they are doing so because they know it’s the right path to take and not simply to serve one’s ego. We have to remember that at times it’s hard for our employees to see the long view because their focus is rightfully on the day-to-day. As such, our decisions might not seem like the best course of action.

But if we’ve demonstrated that our focus is not on being right, but on doing right by those we lead, moving forward without having consensus won’t undermine our influence in the long run because as things progress, your employees will begin to better understand why you had to take the stand you did. And that will help you to build trust going forward in the decisions you need to make on their behalf.

RCLC: Is persuasion a “one-size-fits-all” approach, or do you have to modify your approach depending on the audience?

Tanveer Naseer: As with any type of communication, it’s critical that you shape your message to fit your audience. And the reason for this is simple — it demonstrates both a respect for your audience, but also a deeper understanding of who they are and what are their needs.

When people see that you’re making the effort to better understand them and what they care about, it becomes easier to persuade them to follow your lead because they’ll see that you’re approaching this from a common perspective and communicating in a fashion that reflects what they need to hear to get on board with your vision or idea.

RCLC: At The Ritz-Carlton, leaders are encouraged to “lead by walking around” and therefore, have regular face time with their Ladies and Gentlemen. Does persuasion work for leaders who spend most of their time sitting at their desk and in meetings?

Daniel Pink:  It probably works less well than it would if they got out there and mixed with employees, customers, clients, members, or whatever stakeholders they might have. Business writer Tom Peters got this right three decades ago. He called it Management by Walking Around, and I can see why it’s used at The Ritz-Carlton. The more you interact, the more you know and are known — and, in general, that can only enhance your persuasive powers.

Tanveer Naseer: I can’t imagine how leaders who spend most of their time in meetings or at their desk can be persuasive for the simple fact that they’re spending most of their time on things that matter to them, but not necessarily on the things that matter to those they lead.

Too many times, I’ve seen communal devolve into an arthritic culture of “Anyone can say no but no one can say yes.” Just because we involve a wide group of people in the decision does not mean that everyone will get their wayit only means that we are dedicated to hearing everyone’s opinion.

It’s also important to note that persuasion only works if there’s a relationship between the two parties based on understanding and respect. If you’re not spending a good part of your day walking around getting to know those you lead and their realities, you won’t have much influence as your employees don’t really know or understand what you’re about and what your real objectives are.

So while we might think that we can’t afford to do it, the truth is if you want to influence others, you need to get out and engage with those under your care.

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.

DOs and DON’Ts of Workplace Friendships

Friendships at work may seem like a potential distraction to productivity, but research from Gallup points out that employees who find a best friend at work “are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job.” Workplace friendships clearly have a lot of bonuses. However, when you are the boss, workplace friendships are more complicated. You may consider yourself friends with your employees, but friendships cannot eclipse your responsibilities as a boss. The following list of DO’s and DON’Ts will help leaders navigate workplace relationships.

DO express interest in your staff

It’s important to be professional at work, but professional does not mean cold and distant. Leaders who remain aloof and detached will have a hard time building trust with their employees. Global Officer, Worldwide Operations at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C., Bob Kharazmi, notes, “Leadership is about effectiveness, and effectiveness comes when you create relationships with your team. Your influence is dependent upon the relationship you have with your team.” When you take the time to get to know a little about your employees—find out what their hobbies are, the names of their pets, their favorite sports team—you are showing you care. Consequently, your staff will feel recognized and more valued.

DON’T show favoritism

Pretend you have 10 people reporting to you. Chances are that you will connect with one or two of your employees better than the others. You may be tempted to spend more time with the employees you enjoy most, or give more attention to the employees you feel are doing the best job. However, when one employee appears to be receiving perks due to a friendship, colleagues can become jealous and employee morale suffers. According to the article “The Dangers of Playing Favorites at Work,” even “subtle indications of favoritism … can be … frustrating to employees and detrimental to company culture.” The article also states that, “at extremes, favoritism can lead to lawsuits.” As a leader, you must strive to treat all of your employees with the same amount of care and appreciation.

DO respect your employees’ privacy

One of the Service Values at The Ritz-Carlton vows to “protect the privacy” of fellow employees. Your employees may share confidential information with you from time to time. Regardless of whether they are telling you as a friend or as a boss, your role is to practice discretion and honor their trust in you. You must also be understanding—and not take it personally—if employees choose not to connect with you over social media. Some of your staff may prefer to keep their work life and personal life separate.

DON’T forget to ask about challenges

If an employee has shared a personal crisis with you, be sure to follow up and check in with that employee. Expressing concern by asking, “How are you?” can be a great first step, but avoid asking too many questions. You don’t want to seem as if you’re spying or prying. Be sure your employee is aware of any services your organization offers that could be helpful—such as counseling or legal help. According to research from Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, 47% of all employees reported that the stress from a personal problem impacts their work performance. Expressing compassion is important and right. However, since you and/or your team will possibly be taking on extra work to support this employee, you have to ensure that you don’t over-extend your staff for the sake of a friendship.

DO remember that you are the boss

Because you are the boss, you have a significant impact on your employees’ careers. Most likely, you are giving them performance reviews, recommending them for promotions and even deciding if they should lose their jobs. It’s important for employees to be in your good graces, and this means that their praise may not always be completely genuine. While some employees may blatantly “kiss up” to a boss, others may be more covert in their insincerity. You may feel an employee’s friendship is not motivated by ambition or selfishness—yet in hindsight, you may discover that it was self-serving all along. Leaders can be particularly susceptible to disingenuousness. The “Field Guide to the Social Climber” cites a study that shows, “when you are the object of effusiveness, you fail to recognize the brown-nosing not out of vanity but rather from a desire to be liked and admired.”

DON’T let friendship get in the way of hard conversations

Being a leader means that you need to give feedback, select whom to promote or demote and possibly even lay off or fire an employee. When you become friends with your employees, these difficult conversations become even more challenging. The article, “One Out of Every Two Managers is Terrible at Accountability,” claims that “by far and away the single-most shirked responsibility of executives is holding people accountable.” Adding friendship to a work relationship can make accountability more difficult. Leaders who try to sidestep confrontation may dread disciplining friends, and no one wants to be in the position of deciding whether to lay off their friends.

Importance of Relationships

One of the Service Values at The Ritz-Carlton begins, “I build strong relationships….” This includes relationships with customers and colleagues. You can determine the parameters of these relationships. In other words, you may not want to invite employees over for dinner parties. However, it is important to talk and connect with your employees. Building strong relationships at work will create an atmosphere of care, respect and appreciation and will help everyone work together more effectively. 

Our Enrichment Courses immerse clients in The Ritz-Carlton ambience while offering philosophical and tactical service excellence knowledge. Please visit our Course Calendar to learn more about our upcoming courses and to register. 

Etiquette & Engagement: Unselfish

Imagine if every person acted like a lady or gentleman…..

Engagement Tip: Ladies and gentlemen are unselfish when conversing with others.

People like to talk about themselves. According to a study cited in Time, “we spend almost 40% of conversation talking about ourselves.” It may feel good to prattle on about your own life, but a one-way conversation is more like a therapy session or monologue than a conversation. If you truly want to connect with others, you need to make a habit of asking questions and then being quiet and listening. Avoid the temptation to turn the conversation back to your own experiences and instead focus on learning more about the other person. Listening is an integral element in the art of conversation. At The Ritz-Carlton, we strive to “build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.” We build these relationships by engaging with our guests—by asking open-ended questions, listening carefully and responding appropriately. Conversations that embrace others show unselfishness, respect and genuine care. 

Our Enrichment Courses immerse clients in The Ritz-Carlton ambience while offering philosophical and tactical service excellence knowledge. Please visit our Course Calendar to learn more about our upcoming courses and to register. 

Etiquette & Engagement: Sincere

Imagine if every person acted like a lady or gentleman…..

Engagement Tip: Ladies and gentlemen are sincere when serving others.

Part of building customer loyalty is earning trust. How does an organization earn trust? There are a number of ways, but one of the most obvious ways is to say what you mean, mean what you say, “walk your talk”—in other words, be sincere. Your words and your actions should be aligned. If you say, “Happy to help you,” but you’re grimacing instead of smiling—you will not come off as sincere. Your words should also be delivered with warmth. If you’re smiling when you say “Happy to help you,” your customers will hear the smile in your tone. If you’re frowning, your words will probably sound more like a grumble and be devoid of any true kindness. At The Ritz-Carlton, our Gold Standards articulate how we genuinely care for our guests. Each of our employees—known as our Ladies and Gentlemen—expresses sincerity because an empty conversation or a task completed simply by going through the motions is extremely disengaging. True customer engagement requires caring, attentiveness and authenticity in every interaction—from the warm welcome to the fond farewell. 

Our Enrichment Courses immerse clients in The Ritz-Carlton ambience while offering philosophical and tactical service excellence knowledge. Please visit our Course Calendar to learn more about our upcoming courses and to register. 

Inspired Thinking: Power of Trust

“The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy. The essence of trust building is to emphasize the similarities between you and the customer.”
— Thomas J. Watson, Former CEO of IBM

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center:
Trust is a key factor when it comes to selecting which products to buy, services to use and where to seek employment. We trust the reputation of the organizations we choose to do business with. The Ritz-Carlton builds internal trust by empowering our employees. Empowered employees have the ability to immediately resolve guests’ problems, and this is one way we build trust with our guests. Through open communication we, as a company, work tirelessly to maintain the trust we have built both internally and with our guests. There are times we make mistakes, and as Thomas Watson points out, one mistake can begin to erode trust. When it comes to building trust, the keyword is consistency, and when it comes to rectifying problems, the keyword is immediacy. Hopefully, your employees and customers will forgive the occasional misstep and give you the opportunity to regain their trust. Which organizations have made special efforts to earn your trust? 

The Secret to Building Workplace Trust

You can’t build a team when there’s a lack of trust. In his book, “Speed of Trust,” Steven Covey noted: “trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create—much faster than you probably think possible.” Developing and building workplace trust will lead to more efficiency, improved teamwork and a better work environment.


One of the primary ways to build trust is to make it an integral part of your organization’s culture. At The Ritz-Carlton, our employee promise states: “By applying the principles of trust, honesty, respect, integrity and commitment, we nurture and maximize talent to the benefit of each individual and the company.” This statement not only makes a commitment to the employees of The Ritz-Carlton, it also reinforces that The Ritz-Carlton operates through “trust, honesty, respect, integrity and commitment.” It is the backbone of our culture.


Articulating your organization’s values is important, but consistently living those values is what rapidly builds trust. Empowering employees is an actionable and impactful way to show your faith in them. There’s a myth that trust can only be earned over time, and certainly, deep trust can take years to develop. However, you’ve probably also heard stories of teachers who put an “A” next to each student’s name on the first day of school. These teachers are showing students that they have confidence in the students’ abilities right from the start. This initial sign of faith can inspire advantageous results. At The Ritz-Carlton, employee empowerment begins on day one. Employees are told at orientation that they’ve been hired because they’re the best, and the organization believes in them and trusts them to represent The Ritz-Carlton. They’re immediately empowered to spend up to $2,000 per day per guest—that’s a powerful sign of trust.


Honest and open communication also helps build trust. Be sure your organization has an effective way to share information with employees. When employees feel they’re in the loop, they’re far less likely to participate in gossip. Every employee at The Ritz-Carlton participates in a brief, standing meeting at the beginning of the workday called “daily line-up.” One of the goals of daily line-up is to share announcements and keep employees informed about any corporate or hotel news. Of course, senior leaders are not expected to provide employees with detailed explanations of each business decision, but having an open door and being available to answer employees’ questions will circumvent unnecessary speculation.


A culture of trust also must allow for mistakes. As the former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden noted, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” You want your employees to be doers. If they feel like the sky will fall on them the moment they mess up, then they’re not feeling the safety net of trust. An organization that doesn’t value slip-ups as opportunities for learning breeds defensiveness rather than innovative thinking. The Ritz-Carlton has a process known as MR. BIV (Mistakes, Rework, Breakdowns, Inefficiencies, and Variations). Through this process, The Ritz-Carlton impersonalizes problems and shifts the focus from blame to solutions.

Establishing trust in your workplace is only half the battle. Don’t forget to actively maintain the systems you’ve put into place. Think of your organization as a garden. What happens to a garden if you don’t take care of it? The weeds spring up and eventually take over. If you detect weeds in your organization, you have to handle them immediately. Weeds are broken systems, discontent employees, unethical managers or any other threats to your atmosphere of workplace trust. When you keep your garden of trust perfectly pruned, you’ve provided the right conditions for rapid growth, and your organization will thrive.

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.