One person’s idea of surviving is another’s idea of success and vice versa. I got a vivid lesson about this from Frank, the president of a two-branch savings and loan in Jasper, Ga.
Frank was driving through Prattville, Ala., when he stopped for dinner at a LongHorn Steakhouse. It was packed, so Frank grabbed the last remaining seat at the bar.
Sitting there with 20 other people, waiting for the lone female bartender to take his order, Frank had a moment to observe and listen. He focused on the bartender, wondering how long it would take her to notice him and get him something to drink.
She was in her late 30s, he guessed, dressed in the same cowboy shirt and jeans out?t as every other employee. But she was unlike any service provider he had ever seen.
She didn’t waste one step, one comment, one move along the bar. She took his order for a draft beer less than 30 seconds after he settled in his seat, asking, “Are you having dinner too?” Less than a minute later, she had plunked the beer, a bowl of peanuts, a menu, and the silverware in front of him — all while serving drinks and dinners to 20 other bar patrons.
She also handled the drink orders for the entire restaurant, and was responsible for making sure every takeout order was correct before it went out the door. She was a non-stop bundle of energy and an efficiency expert, and she was smart. When she fell behind, she knew precisely when and what to say to let patrons know she hadn’t forgotten them. She had the politician’s gift of making everyone feel like the most important person in her world.
Frank was impressed. As he sliced his filet, his first thought was if there were a reality show for the best bartender in America, this woman could win. Her name was Cothy — like Cathy, only with an “o,” she said.
He told her, “You’re the most impressive bartender I’ve ever seen. You should come work for me at my bank in Georgia.” It wasn’t the drink talking. Frank was half-serious; someone this amazing could do anything.
“I’m divorced. I have an 8-year-old daughter and my mother at home. I couldn’t just get up and leave them. Besides, you couldn’t afford me.”
“We pay pretty well in Georgia,” Frank said.
She leaned over the bar and whispered, “Well, you’re going to leave me a tip, right? Multiply your tip by 60, then multiply that by five days a week, 50 weeks a year, and you’re getting close to what I’d cost you.” Frank did the math in his head and realized she might be out-earning him.
On paper, her resume didn’t seem promising: divorced, single mom, raising a daughter alone, living under the same roof with her mother and working nights at a bar.
For many people, that would fall somewhere between sacrificing and surviving. But this woman clearly loved what she was doing, and as a result did it so well that she could handle all her responsibilities, and then some. She had enough spirit to convince a stranger to hire her on the spot. She was, without question, succeeding.
As Frank got up from his meal, he tripled his usual tip. It was a small gesture, more a salute to a great worker than excessive generosity. Frank wanted to impress her as she had impressed him, even though he knew he’d never pass through Prattville again.
Spirit is often infectious. When people pass their positive spirit to us, we feel like passing it back. People who find happiness and meaning at work tend to be the same people who find it at home. In other words, our spirit comes from inside ourselves, as much as it does from what we do.
Marshall Goldsmith is an authority in helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior. He is the author or co-editor of 31 books, including MOJO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.