Rise to the Occasion

Over the Christmas holidays, I was invited to make a presentation on civility at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia as part of their holiday calendar of events.  As a native of that state, I felt like I was not only going “home” but had, in fact, stepped back in time.  The Greenbrier—a vacation spot frequented by numerous U.S. Presidents—is rich in history and steeped in tradition.  With its unparalleled style and grace, it is an utter bastion of civility.

My immersion in this culture for a couple of days made me aware of the stark contrast with the outside world.  I couldn’t help but ponder, why can’t it always be this way, whereby everyone is on his and her best behavior?  Further, I began to wonder how this unique culture—in which each staff member is not only polite and courteous but genuinely wanting to serve and please—continues to prevail in this day and age.

A visit to the staff cafeteria gave me an insight.  Walking down the labyrinth of corridors, I stopped to read each of the many messages painted on the walls.  The first wall that I encountered listed twelve values embraced by the personnel—respect, fairness, honesty, excellence, pride, teamwork, loyalty, empowerment, safety, commitment, cleanliness, and responsibility.  A few steps farther revealed three separate mission statements addressing community, employees, and guests.  After passing by additional signage, the summation of the philosophy was “Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”

Indeed, the Greenbrier sets a high standard, a code of conduct about how employees should interact with each other and with guests.  Although one might argue that employees are paid to behave this way, it is apparent that employees are hired to fit a culture of service, which is established and modeled, from the top down.  Given that many among the staff have worked there for decades, that culture becomes a way of living and being.

Becoming attuned to these surroundings, the guests themselves mellow and fall into a pattern of grace that is often a departure from their behavioral norms.  The respect, courtesy, and kindness extended by the staff, begins to rub off.  It’s so pleasing to be in such an environment, that patrons are wont to behave in a more pleasing manner, smoothing their otherwise rougher edges.  When there is a prevailing standard—a code of expected behavior—we raise the bar and rise to the occasion.  We portray what we are capable of doing—behaving as ladies and gentlemen.  When that standard is missing, so are expectations; the bar is lowered, and, often, so is the level of our conduct.



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