Want Them to Walk through Walls for You? Clean their cups!

Recent reports of the doubling of fees and poor customer service make this blog harder to write … but will Reed Hastings take note?

When Netflix CEO Reed Hastings worked for another company, he showed up at the crack of dawn one morning and saw his CEO’s car in the lot. He stopped in the men’s room, and found his CEO inside by the sink, coat off, sleeves rolled up, scrubbing a big pile of nasty-looking coffee mugs. Shocked and embarrassed, he asked: “Why are you cleaning my cups?” “Well,” the CEO replied, “you’re working so hard and doing so much for us. And this is the only thing I could think of that I could do for you.”

In Reed’s words: “I was blown away. And I learned the lesson of how a leader’s unexpected humility can create great respect. If possible, I worked even harder over the next year. And I knew I would walk through any wall for him.”

This is a powerful leadership lesson, at work and at home. Can you take time from your busy schedule to “clean some cups?” for your co-workers, your kids, your partner?

Netflix (NFLX) is the world’s largest online movie rental business with 61% of streaming movies online, and is set to become a major competitor to the TV industry by releasing miniseries similar to HBO. Although Amazon and Facebook also entered the digital movie market, Netflix is still way ahead. Blockbuster could have done it, but they were busy improving their stores instead of embracing the digital world. Look at their growth next to Blockbusters (from Fortune, July 4, 2011, page 13). Have they changed too fast?

Check the growth of Texts vs Mail, Amazon vs Borders, and iTunes vs CD’s on the same page. Pass the page onto your co-workers who are still trying to hide until the computer trend passes. The best way to help change behavior … other than addictive behaviors, then all bets are off … is to provide evidence, give them the numbers.

Almost everyone agrees that this would not have been possible without the servant attitude of Reed Hastings, that he learned early one morning watching his boss clean his mug. Simple gestures, powerful effects.