The Winter Olympics in Sochi are well under way, and already, we are seeing and hearing amazing stories from Olympic athletes. One story in particular represents everything great about the games and reminds me of a Habitude called The Waldorf Principle.
In the finals of the Men’s Cross Country Skiing event, Russia’s Anton Gafarov crashed halfway down the hill, badly damaging his ski. However, he managed to get up and continue. After skiing a bit further, he fell again, this time breaking his ski. When he got up this time, he worked valiantly to keep his weight off the broken ski, trying to use only his poles. He couldn’t do it, and unfortunately, he fell again. This time, it looked like he’d need to quit the race. But little did he know that help was on the way.
Canadian Coach Justin Wadsworth ran onto the course to support him. He provided a new ski—putting it on for him—and enabled Anton to finish the race. Although he finished a full three minutes behind the leaders, the crowd gave Anton a standing ovation as he crossed the finish line. It was a moment for the Olympic ages.
Justin Wadsworth explained why he ran onto the course in an interview with the Toronto Star: “It was like watching an animal stuck in a trap. You can’t just sit there and do nothing about it… I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line.”
Wow. This is one big reason I love the Olympics. It’s not just the competition, it’s the goodwill.
This reminds me of the Waldorf Principle. It’s one of our Habitudes—Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes. The Waldorf Principle is all about influencing through service. Extravagant, sacrificial service.
The Waldorf Principle
One stormy night, decades ago, an elderly man and his wife entered the lobby of a small hotel in Philadelphia. Trying to get out of the rain, the couple approached the front desk, hoping to get some shelter for the night.
“We’d like a room, please,” the husband requested. The clerk, a friendly man with a winning smile, looked at them and explained that there were three conventions in town. “All of our rooms are taken,” the clerk said. “But I can’t send a nice couple like you out in the rain at one o’clock in the morning. Would you perhaps be willing to sleep in my room? It’s not exactly a suite, but it will be good enough to make you folks comfortable for the night.”
When the couple declined, the clerk insisted. “Don’t worry about me; I’ll make out just fine,” he told them. So the couple agreed to spend the night in his room. As he paid his bill the next morning, the elderly man said to the clerk, “You’re an exceptional man. Finding people who are both friendly and helpful is rare these days. You are the kind of manager who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States. Maybe someday I’ll build one for you.”
Two years passed. The clerk was still managing the hotel in Philadelphia when he received a letter from the old man. It recalled that stormy night, and enclosed was a round-trip ticket to New York, asking the young man to pay him a visit.
The old man met him in New York and led him to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. He then pointed to a great new building there, a palace of reddish stone, with turrets and watchtowers thrusting up to the sky. “That,” he said, “is the hotel I’d like you to manage.”
The old man’s name was William Waldorf Astor, and the magnificent structure was the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The clerk who became its first manager was George C. Boldt. This young clerk never foresaw how his simple act of sacrificial service would lead him to manage one of the world’s most glamorous hotels.
The way to the top is not just through service—it’s through extravagant, sacrificial service. When someone goes out of their way to help you, it makes all the difference in the world:
- It’s the difference between getting a grumpy, inattentive waitress versus a professional, friendly server whom you actually enjoy talking to and who allows a special order.
- It’s the difference between calling customer support and plowing through automated menus versus instantly being connected to a live person who goes out of her way to help.
- It’s the difference between having a professor who just tolerates your questions versus having one who spends extra time and effort to help you really grasp the material.
In our world today, people expect service. What blows them away is when that service is extravagant and sacrificial—service that’s above the call of duty and costs something to the person who provides it. I’d say Coach Justin Wadsworth practiced this well.
Talk It Over
1. Do you know anyone who models servant leadership? Are they more influential because of it? Explain.
2. What does it mean to serve sacrificially? How are you doing in this area?
3. When you serve others, do you just do the bare minimum, or do you exceed their expectations?
Live It Out
True service always costs us something. This week, perform one act of service for someone else. But instead of just doing the bare minimum, go the extra mile. Really sacrifice yourself on someone else’s behalf. Don’t just clean your friend’s room… clean her bathroom as well. Don’t just wish him a happy birthday… organize a surprise party! Don’t just write a nice note… write several notes and post them in unexpected places. Sure, it requires time, energy, and even money, but what makes it extravagent. After finishing, reflect on the experience. What did you discover?