Keep It Simple – Be Nice. Be Passionate.

A recent interview conducted by Adam Bryant, an author for The New York Times, questions Andy Lansing – the president and chief executive of Levy Restaurants. This interview suggests that most job interviews start off with two major questions – Are you nice? Are you passionate?

When asked how Lansing rose in the ranks to C.E.O. from the legal side of the business, he said it was because he was nosy. Being nosy led him to collaborating with people that he wasn’t normally involved with. How did he do that without causing suspicion? Well, part of that is because of their company culture. They’re “…sort of this entrepreneurial family where people really didn’t live in silos … there’s more of a sense of openness.” Another facet of his nosiness was that he wasn’t afraid to ask questions when he didn’t understand the processes or procedures.

Another way he got others on his side and kept them open to his prowling included a lesson he learned about leadership.

Lansing said, “I also learned early on about a trait of good leaders, which is that I may have the idea, but I’m going to make you think you came up with the idea and give you credit for it at the end of the day. So it’s sort of getting people to do things without letting them know what hit them, and giving them credit for it.”

Bryant asks, “And how did you learn to do that?” – – Lansing responds simply, “I don’t know.” He also notes that he wasn’t always crazy about being the boss … initially, the responsibility was something he was a bit frightened of. He said he wasn’t interested in people fearing him or doing things because of him … “People have personal power or they have positional power,” Lansing said. “Positional power means I have power over you because I’m your boss.” Some people have personal power, and that’s just because they have that quality. Being a manager doesn’t equate to being a leader. The mere position title doesn’t really give you power – how you treat people and how you lead gives you power.

Lansing said, “Leaders are the people you want with you when all hell is breaking loose. They have the knowledge about how to treat people with respect and dignity and how to just be a natural leader.”

According to Lansing, leadership is more of a genetic thing … it can be fine-tuned, but it generally cannot be taught. Bryant asks how Lansing goes about the hiring process, and receives an interesting response – Lansing said, “I hire for two traits – I hire for nice and I hire for passion.” People are often caught off guard when they’re asked if they’re nice. It’s one of Lansing’s biggest requirements. In regards to being asked during an interview if one is nice, Bryant asks “What do people say?” Lansing notes that it’s a question that most aren’t prepared for and not used to answering. This unusual approach has weeded out several candidates that weren’t right for the job.

Who knew being nice was such a big deal? Where did Lansing even come up with that tactic? “It was probably from Larry Levy, talking about the importance of being nice, and it kind of just evolved as a company philosophy that we only hire nice people,” he said. “It’s probably the first line in every one of our training manuals – we only hire nice people.”

When it comes to being passionate, that’s the other side of the coin for Lansing. After asking applicants if they are nice, he’ll ask what they are passionate about in their lives and what passion means to them.

And I’m not necessarily looking for the magic answer, but I love it when I hear that someone has fire in the belly. And then I say, you have got to be passionate about this company and the job if you come to work here. If you give me someone who’s nice and who’s passionate, I can teach them everything else.

Company culture is a big factor in employee retention and satisfaction. Lansing comments on what else is unusual about his organization’s culture – he doesn’t do the formal updates, instead he’ll use his flipcam to make a video of a noteworthy employee or highlight a new food product being showcased at one of their locations. Why no formal “fireside” company-wide updates? Lansing said, “I don’t like the idea of being a corporate C.E.O. with formal messages. I don’t like the town hall where you have to line up with a microphone. It’s not who I am.”

You don’t have to be a comedian, but humor to me is the world’s best tonic. I always say that the shortest distance between two people is humor. We work our tails off in the hospitality business, but if you can do it and laugh and have a good time doing it, it’s really special.

To Andy Lansing, keeping it simple and humorous will get you far – all you need is to be nice and to be passionate. Maybe your organization can take a few of these simple suggestions to heart. To read more about how Lansing keeps things floating in the hospitality industry, click here to read the full article.


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