Four Seasons and The Golden Rule

Whenever I find myself in front of people who question their own abilities to excel and become leaders in their chosen fields, I stir the conversation to a little Canadian hotel company: Four Seasons.

Well, maybe not so little anymore. Established in 47 countries, they operate almost 150 of the finest hotels on the planet.

Their path to success was laid out by founder, Isadore Sharp, back in the early 70s, when he made the bold decision to transform his construction and small hotel company into the leading luxury hotel and resort brand in the world. With a market dominated for decades by legendary names like Ritz-Carlton and hotel giants far wealthier and more powerful than Sharp’s fledgling enterprise, the idea was considered a pipe dream by many and a folly by most.

But Sharp had a vision. He would build his brand on one of the oldest tenets known to mankind. In his 2009 book, Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy, he reveals:

The reason for our success is no secret. It comes down to one single principle that transcends time and geography, religion and culture. It’s the Golden Rule – the simple idea that if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same.

Sharp was referring, yes, to the way to treat his guests, but mostly to the manner in which his directors, managers, and employees should deal with each other, from a president to a cleaning person.

Implementing the Golden Rule, making it a living and breathing way of life, was much easier said than done. Sure, most managers and partners agreed with it, and stated their belief in it, but failed dramatically to apply it. Many top brass found it impossible to treat a gardener with the same respect they would treat a CEO, or a waiter to treat a cook with equal admiration.

Sharp is the first to say that it took many, many years to make the Golden Rule the foundation of his company’s culture. Those who were not able or willing to live by it had to leave, a weeding out process that needed almost two decades.

But can we argue with success? Once Four Seasons reached the pinnacle of its industry, Sharp claimed service and the Golden Rule had become its greatest competitive advantage and the hardest barrier to entry for its competitors.

Treat others as we would like to be treated. Mmm… sounds so simple.

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