40 Leadership Lessons from the Freedom Trail – #5

On the 31st August 2013, Lesley, my wife and soulmate, retired after 35 years teaching in secondary schools. Two days later, as planned, we set off for a magical celebratory holiday, taking in New York, California and Oregon. Our trip became known as the ‘Freedom Trail’.

While on the Freedom Trail, I journaled every day and ended each entry with a leadership moment/lesson. Here’s another!


#5 – Leaders focus on customers’ needs

Friday 6th September 2013 in New York City was a cold night; clear but cold. We decided to take the New York Night Tour. The city at night is a different place, a magical place, or so it would seem. The tour  is offered by different operators, though, whoever you choose, you get  similar routes.

From the minute you board the bus, you are surrounded by bright lights on every side, in Times Square, along 5th Avenue and down onto 42nd Street. It is a photographer’s heaven, with the Manhattan skyline and many famous landmarks, such as the Empire State Building.

What often makes or breaks any guided tour, is the guide’s commentary. Get a great one, with excellent banter and some humour, and a couple of hours passes in a breeze. The opposite is unthinkable, as you are left grasping in the dark, on this occasion quite literally. That night the bus audio system malfunctioned. Intermittent buzzing, snatches of clarity and a long period of silence went on for many minutes before I, and a number of other passengers complained.

The guide was a young guy. He came down to the back of the bus, took a look, muttered and mumbled and disappeared back to the front of the bus. Here he carried on as if nothing was wrong.That was a bad move. Some of us complained again, even more loudly. Again he came down the bus, muttered some platitudes, then returned to the front of the bus, where he was having a grand time. The third set of complaints fell on deaf ears.

The outcome was, as you might have guessed, a set of very disgruntled tourists. Arriving at the drop-off point, the guide made a great show of wishing us all a wonderful night and thanking us for our involvement. He then stood at the exit with his baseball cap in hand, waiting for tips.

[Tweet “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. ~ Bill Gates”]

As we passed him, the look he gave me when I made no move to do this was venomous. What surprised him completely was when I explained calmly, though I didn’t feel calm, and concisely what he ought to have done as the tour guide and why he wasn’t getting a tip!

He was left in no uncertain terms that this had been the worst guided tour I have ever had the misfortune to participate in and I have taken many. That he had the nerve to expect a tip, despite how poor his service was, left many people astonished.

I put him straight. Despite my often stereotypical British politeness, I never have and I never will put up with mediocrity. On the other hand, give such people a few pointers on how to improve next time, definitely. I am always happy to help.

I’ve often wondered if the lesson had any longer-term impact.

Leaders focus on customers’ needs, think of alternatives/options when things go wrong, apologise for the problems or difficulties encountered and are responsive to the people they are meant to be serving.


This entry was posted in Leadership and Management and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

I love meaningful conversation - please leave a comment