Leadership: Stephen Lewis and the Sydney Four Seasons Hotel


Overlooking the harbour in beautiful Sydney, Australia, stands the elegant Four Seasons Hotel. With 531 rooms, it is the largest in the hotel chain.  I know it well, as I practically lived there from the fall of 2000 to the spring of 2004, working for three different clients.

Every morning I got up at 5 a.m., had a complimentary cup of coffee in the lobby, then headed out to run around Circular Quay, past the Opera House (photo left), through the Botanic Gardens and back to the hotel. Then I’d sit in the lobby with a bottle of water and a towel the staff kindly gave me, and people-watch for a few minutes.

Just before I headed upstairs I often saw Stephen Lewis, the hotel’s General Manager arriving for work. Like any good manager he would scan the lobby as he walked, ensuring that all was as it should be, and many times I saw him stop at the coffee service, which the hotel usually took down once the dining room opened for breakfast.  Very quietly Mr. Lewis would grab a tray and begin stacking used cups and silver, and begin moving the items to the kitchen.

I always enjoyed seeing this, and I never commented to Mr. Lewis about it, because I knew exactly what he was doing. You must know that the GM in a big hotel is like a god to the employees, and if he had asked someone to take down the coffee service, it would have been done instantly.

But the Four Seasons is a beautifully-run hotel.  Everything is done smoothly, quietly and efficiently, so that guests never notice the “operation” going on around them.  And because the guest is most important, and it is everyone’s duty to make the guest experience exquisite, Mr. Lewis saw no need to summon someone else to do a job he could easily and quickly do himself.  The coffee service should be taken down.  With used cups and silver all over the place, it’s unsightly.  Solution?  Take it down at once.

On Friday I talked of Admiral Nelson’s leadership in modeling bravery for his officers and men.  In the Four Seasons’ management philosophy Mr. Lewis was modeling the mission and goals of the hotel, which are the same for all employees.

In what practical ways do you model your company’s mission and goals as Mr. Lewis did?

When I conduct on-site training for a company I generally see two different managers.  Sometimes the group leader will kick off the training program with a few encouraging words and then leave.  But when I have a real leader, the opening remarks are then followed by a full day in the workshop, with active participation, thoughtful questions and animated discussions. These leaders want their people to know that this training is for everyone. They send the message “I’m not better than you.  I can use help developing my skills too.  We’re in this together.”

This direct involvement in the work to be done is a useful trait of leaders.  Instead of “I want you guys to put your heads together and come up with a plan on how we do this,” leaders say, “Let’s work together to come up with a couple of good solutions for this. We start right now.”

So far we have:

  • Model the attributes you want your team to have (Nelson)
  • Involve yourself directly in the work so your team understands the mission (Lewis)

In our next Fable Friday I’ll tell you about the best burger in California.  Meanwhile

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

One Response to Leadership: Stephen Lewis and the Sydney Four Seasons Hotel

  1. Ellen Marangos says:

    Gregory LaMothe when I read this story it brought back a lot of good memories and you forgot one person Thomas Marangos. Great article

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