Nate and Sophie—Another Fable Friday Leadership Story

As family and friends celebrated the marriage of Nate and Sophie, the young couple considered their future.  They had much in their favor, as they were deeply in love, had many friends and came from good families. But for all their hopes and dreams, they had little in the way of money to help realize them.

Sophie had dreamed of one day becoming an artist, and had already displayed considerable skill and creativity.  Nate dreamed of becoming a writer, but his early attempts were not highly successful and he worried that he lacked the talent to achieve recognition and with it the financial means to support a family.

But you cannot feed a family while writing, and soon Nate put aside his calling in order to take a position with the government as a quality control inspector.  It was boring, tedious work, and Nate hated it.  But the job was necessary because after a time Nate and Sophie had themselves and three children to care for.

So they made the best of it.  At night Nate would come home tired and depressed, and after dinner sit at his desk to write. But over time he sensed his passion for writing was dying, and he worried that he might never fulfill his promise.

And then disaster struck.  Nate was dismissed from his job.  Tedious and enervating though it was, he needed that job to support his family.

Heartbroken, he went home and told Sophie the news.  “What are we going to do?” he asked.

“Nate,” replied Sophie, “you mustn’t worry.  I have a plan. Remember how you always used to say that if you only had the time to write you knew you could produce a great book? I know you’ve missed your writing and it’s been hard for you to put it aside to support us.  But now you must see that this is a great opportunity for us, because now you can devote yourself entirely to your writing.

“I’ve put aside a bit of money, and I can do some part-time work, and maybe sell a painting or two, but until your book is finished, that is how things will be, and I will see to it that we manage. Trust me on this Nate.”

So that’s what they did.  Every day over many long days, Nate wrote and Sophie managed the household. The children ate well, and the family was happy again.  And as for Nate, he wrote with a passion and a vision that he didn’t know he had, until finally he announced to Sophie that the book was finished and he would see if he could get it published.

And of course our story has a happy ending, because not only was Nate’s novel published, but it was a brilliant work and a popular sensation, establishing him as one of the pre-eminent writers of his time.

So the leadership recognition in today’s Fable Friday goes not to Nate, but to Sophie.  For it was Sophia Peabody who demonstrated leadership in this story.  She recognized her husband’s talent, showed her belief in him and insisted he follow his dream.  And once that decision was made, she gave all of herself to enable Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850 to publish one of America’s greatest novels, “The Scarlet Letter.”

We have quite a list of leadership qualities by now. We’ll explore another one next Fable Friday.  Meanwhile

Think Like Your Customer

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