The Waiter Rule

 Posted by on 22 April 2006 at 9:00 am  Uncategorized
Apr 222006

How can a busy CEO determine if one of his employees is genuinely nice or is a jerk merely pretending to be nice in order to suck up to the boss? According to this article, the most reliable test is how he or she treats the waiter:

Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson… wrote a booklet of 33 short leadership observations called Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management

Among those 33 rules is only one that Swanson says never fails: “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.”

Swanson says he first noticed this in the 1970s when he was eating with a man who became “absolutely obnoxious” to a waiter because the restaurant did not stock a particular wine.

“Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with,” Swanson writes. “Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.”

The Waiter Rule also applies to the way people treat hotel maids, mailroom clerks, bellmen and security guards.

…Such behavior is an accurate predictor of character because it isn’t easily learned or unlearned but rather speaks to how people were raised…

Having slowly worked my way up the medical hierarchy from college student hospital volunteer to medical student to resident to fellow to attending physician, I can totally attest to the truth of this rule. Back when I was a professor at Washington University Medical School, I knew that my residents and medical students would always treat me with a certain degree of respect, since I controlled their grades for their radiology rotation. But I made a point to see how they treated the nurses and x-ray techs; the ones that treated the support staff with respect when they were still at the bottom of the medical ladder were also the ones that turned out to be the best doctors once they reached the top.

For some reason, there’s a particular type of sycophantic personality that’s deferential (sometimes exaggeratedly so) to their superiors, but also demands bootlicking from those below them on the ladder. Their peers generally know them for what they are, but their superiors might not always be able to tell, and hence the utility of the Waiter Rule.

Diana’s observation (which I agree with) is that this type of sycophantic person is essentially a second-hander. They view others (either above or below them on the ladder) as merely a means to an end, and the key attribute they focus on with respect to other people is the power relationship. Hence, they are just another variant of what Objectivists call “social metaphysicians”. (Via Plastic.)

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