Wearing Red Shoes in Service and Leadership

This article first appeared in the opinion section of Aftermarket News on May 3, 2013.
It was originally written as a guest commentary by Lonnie Mayne.
Photo taken by Flickr user Sergey Ivanov

As people, we live in commotion. Our days are noisy and our weeks blurry. We attempt to focus on everything and wind up focusing on nothing. It’s hard to find a groove, and it’s easy to lose perspective.

In this blur we call a daily routine, we pass up countless opportunities to serve the people around us. If we don’t actively escape the strong current of our schedule, forcefully breaking our rigid patterns to make time for spontaneity and sincerity, we inevitably become white noise incapable of showing people the respect they deserve. We lose our chance to be responsive to the dynamic world we live in.

The Reality of Respect

I don’t believe respect has to be earned—at least not in the way we normally think of it. We earn respect the same way we earn our place on this earth. It happens 23 to 43 weeks into our miraculous development—when we are abruptly severed from our prenatal life source; when we first draw breath into our tiny, untested lungs; when we first cry vocally in confusion and need; when we first will ourselves to survive in a world of opposition and vulnerability—that’s when it happens.

Everyone has earned their place on this earth, and everyone has earned basic human respect. That belief is central to living a positive life—professionally and personally. That belief stands at the heart of my “Red Shoes” philosophy.

Standing Out

Standing out is the art of catching the eye, grabbing attention, and engaging the busy human brain (if even just for a moment). In its most powerful form, it’s not flashy or self-aggrandizing; in fact, it’s nothing more than a thoughtful act done out of respect. I can think of nothing more powerful. Standing out is the way we exert positive influence on this world.

Only when someone or something stands out does the mind focus on it long enough to absorb new information and produce its own valuable reflections.

In the many years I’ve been dressing myself, I’ve gone through a lot of footwear. I’ve paired enough different shoes with enough different suits to know that the red ones “pop.” They stand out. That’s the symbolism. It’s a simple concept that we’ve all experienced at some point.

Recognizing Red Shoes

We’ve all had our attention unexpectedly drawn to a person who put a little more into their service than the job seemed to require. We’ve all met that person at checkout who smiled so politely and sincerely that we knew they weren’t just following a company smile policy. It made a mark. It caused reflection. It changed the course of your thoughts and your day. It changed the way you looked at others.

For the few minutes or hours that followed, you were under its influence. These are red shoes experiences. Behaving as if another person is your top concern, acting as if your enjoyment is directly tied to theirs, taking the time to pay a simple compliment—these acts all stand out. They are some of the simplest and most genuine gestures found across all humankind, and they are vital to our progress.

“Enough” Isn’t Enough

Thankfully, most of us have felt and even created a Red Shoes Experience before. These are things we want to do, and these are things we have done—but these are also things we have put off. Take, for example, the situation I see every time I travel:

You have boarded your flight, stowed your carry-on, and are settling into your seat. At that moment, a little old lady in the aisle puts all of what’s left of her might into hefting a bag into the overhead bin. She makes it about two-thirds of the way. At this point you have three options. I’ve exercised all of them.

1. You hop up without hesitation and give her a hand with the bag 2. You tense up, lean forward, and prepare for action that never comes 3. You mind your own business

The beautiful thing about this example is that there are a million legitimate justifications for taking the second and third options. In each scenario the old lady is certainly helped out by someone. In the worst case, she has to wait for a flight attendant to come down the aisle. The situation is always resolved swiftly, because, as people, we do “enough.”

But what if we did more than enough? What if everyone on the plane were to spot the old lady coming and stand at the ready? What if, at the first indication she had found her seat, the nearest three people offered to help her with her bag? How much more meaningful would that be? It would certainly stand out.

The Reasons We Do It

There are people out there who create these experiences all day long at their jobs. They’ve figured something out that has helped them stand out at every interaction. Off the top of my head, I see four reasons they do it and why we all can do it:

1. Most of us were raised to believe we could be a force for good 2. It’s part of our American identity—it’s a point of national pride in other countries, too 3. It makes us feel good 4. It creates momentum for progress

The Power of a Greeting

At Mindshare Technologies, our company focus is on helping brands create the insight and awareness they need—across every one of their customer touchpoints—to provide standout experiences for their customers. We collect customer feedback for more than 200 brands, accounting for tens of thousands of locations serving millions of customers.

From this feedback, our analysis affirms many incredible things about the power of respect and service in business.

We recently conducted an analysis using the customer feedback of a nationwide chain of auto parts retail stores and service centers. In their particular situation, they were having trouble keeping certain parts in stock. While they worked on optimizing their supply chain, they wanted to ensure they continued to retain customers.

Along with rating their satisfaction and likeliness to recommend, customers also answered these two survey questions: “Were you acknowledged by a member of the staff?” and “Did we have the item you were looking for?” From the collected responses, we were able to show empirically that customers who were acknowledged by staff members (greeted, welcomed, assisted, etc.) consistently reported high satisfaction—regardless of item availability.

Acknowledged: Yes; Stock: In; Satisfaction Score: 94.8 Acknowledged: Yes; Stock: Out; Satisfaction Score: 90 Acknowledged: No; Stock: In; Satisfaction Score: 74.2 Acknowledged: No; Stock: Out; Satisfaction Score: 56.2

For them it became imperative to acknowledge and engage every customer that walked through their doors. It’s the same for any business. What’s surprising, sometimes, is how much more important that is than any other business function.

Five Pillars

To consistently create red shoes experiences for everyone we meet, there are five pillars in place. This is the most crucial and comprehensive list I could come up with, and I see it working well. I will write more about each one in the future:

1. Awareness 2. Gratitude 3. Stories (everybody has one) 4. Respect (friendliness, empathy) 5. Putting ourselves “out there”

Of course, these all come down to another element. The element of choice. You have the power to choose Red Shoes. You have to the power to influence anyone you meet. Boil away every material thing in this world and that is all you have. Choice.

Wearing Red Shoes means that you make the decision to respect people—that people hold a special place far and above any other object on this planet. That you recognize them as fellow agents with the power to choose. People are not cogs in your life, your plans, your goals. Their decisions, even the ones that affect you, are still theirs alone to make. Your decisions, even the ones that affect others, are still yours to make. The consequences are yours to take.

Give effort, give love, give time, give self, give glory, but take joy. The joy you get to keep.