Before making a final decision on recruiting someone for his senior team, James Cherry, president and CEO of Aéroports de Montréal, takes them to dinner at his local restaurant.
He’s not checking their table manners, conversation skills or knowledge of fine cuisine. Rather he takes note of how they treat the waiter. Did they treat the waiter with respect?
Jim, who is retiring later this year after a highly successful career, only hires those who do. He believes that the ability to engage stakeholders is the cornerstone of successful leadership and the key to long-term success.
Being able to motivate, influence and persuade others depends on interacting with them as human beings with different and distinct personalities and circumstances. This means treating other people, whatever their role, background or level, with respect.
Cherry’s viewpoint is consistent with current thinking on organisational leadership and is an important building block for airports aspiring to sustainable high performance:
- Leading and inspiring others in times of change requires airport leaders to be good communicators. They must be able to explain things to people at all levels in their organisation and listen carefully to what they have to say.
- The relentless focus on the ‘customer’ required for airports to be successful needs people to work together seamlessly. Collaboration and co-operation are essential for both consistent, repeatable operational performance and innovation. ‘Respect’ provides the behavioural underpinning for better organisation connectivity.
- Casting the net widely and without prejudice when recruiting and selecting people makes it far easier to attract and retain the best talent. An organisational environment where differences are valued, facilitates this approach.
Unfortunately, ‘respect for others’ is still too often put on the back burner, particularly where the stakes are high and there is intense pressure for results.
In a competitive world – whether it be business, sport or politics – there is always the temptation to shred the reputation of peers, colleagues and competitors in an attempt to gain immediate advantage.
Indeed, some businesses achieve high growth and excellent financial results – for a time – with few concessions to their customers. In our own sector, there are many airports which focus nearly all their efforts on infrastructure and pay very little attention to their people.
In practice, this kind of approach is rarely sustainable. Too many enemies are made and too many bridges burnt. Apparently simple solutions to complex issues are found not to work in practice. There is a strong resistance to change.
So making the effort to develop a culture of respect is a much better option. It takes time and may require investing in education, training and personal and professional development to give people the understanding, skills and confidence to be able to contribute fully.
But mostly it requires the right attitude. Jim Cherry’s ‘waiter’ test is one we can all learn from.