I vividly remember my first cruise. I was a rising junior at Ole Miss, and approximately twenty students were traveling as a group. I shared an inside stateroom with three other coeds at the back of a very old ship. With four bunkbeds and luggage that seemed to multiply every day, we coexisted happily for seven days.
My colleagues and I absorbed way too much Caribbean sunshine. Our group seemed to be the last to leave the dance floor every night. This week at sea was one big party with a nice group of grounded young people enjoying immense fun, delicious food and awesome service.
Over the years, I have found wide variation in the quality of my cruising experiences. Some ships have had more amenities than others. Some vessels catered to a smaller number of passengers while others competed to see which ship could accommodate the most guests. Regardless of these nuances, the main difference I have found in cruising has been grounded in the culture of the ship’s staff.
My husband and I recently experienced the Celebrity Silhouette, a ship that appears to have an “It’s a Ten” culture.
From the minute we arrived at the cruise port, every interaction was perfect. When we approached the ship, we were slightly frantic, having arrived just minutes before the official deadline for check-in. As we boarded the ship, we were happily welcomed like old friends. Our panic immediately melted into a sense of calm. Clearly it was time for our bon voyage martini!
During our first dinner at sea, we met Christine Joy, a specialty restaurant assistant waiter from the Philippines. Her smile was like a warm ray of sunshine. When we asked how long Christine had been with the ship, she responded “Nine months, and I’ve already been promoted”. Smiling widely, she proudly shared, “Celebrity is a great company. They encourage their employees to experience different roles so they can pursue a career path they enjoy. Each time we saw Christine Joy throughout the week, that beautiful smile was always shining brightly. Perhaps it’s no accident this young lady had joy both in her name and in her heart!
Our waiter, Adrian, had been with Celebrity for eighteen years. Clearly, he was the very best server my husband and I have ever encountered at sea. He was always jovial and quickly established a bond with us, fondly referring to my husband as “Papa”. He anticipated every need and bent over backwards to ensure we were happy with all aspects of our dining experience.
Assistant waiter Jola had only been aboard for one month. As a brand-new employee, she raved about the crossing training opportunities that she was already being encouraged to pursue.
Suffice it to say that everywhere…. and I do mean absolutely everywhere we went on the ship, we were greeted by highly engaged employees who seemed to love their work. We encountered no grumpy expressions nor faces buried in smart phones. We experienced a great performance by all. And this mesmerizing culture was accomplished with many of the employees being new!
In Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before, I included a chapter entitled “Caramel Cake and Culture”. Within this chapter I shared my convictions that like making a cake, the recipe for a great corporate culture requires that the key ingredients of Gracious Leadership be consistently applied.
While I don’t know the specific leadership principles being taught by the Celebrity Silhouette Leadership, I did see some similarities with my convictions about Gracious Leadership. These leaders were clear about expectations and required accountability for performance. They were purposeful about developing their people. They understood the importance of positive relationships with customers and employees They reinforced the significance of seemingly small acts of kindness. They sought and provided feedback.
We saw in action aboard the Silhouette some of the key ingredients of Gracious Leadership. Just like making a Caramel Cake, when it’s right, you know it! Even though several thousand passengers were onboard during the two-week journey, the staff made us feel like the only guests in their world. Hats off to this fine team of leaders and frontline staff of the Silhouette for getting their hospitality culture “just right”.
It’s no wonder that in the gangway of Celebrity Silhouette, the staff proudly displayed banners touting that their ship had been recognized as among the best within their company for excellence in the customers’ experiences at sea.
Corporate culture clearly matters in the hospitality industry, and corporate culture matters in every industry. For this reason, leaders and board members are placing increasing emphasis upon the strategic imperative to create and to sustain positive corporate culture because of the correlation with organizational returns.
Could you say without reservation that your company’s corporate culture is a “Ten”? If you don’t have time for a cruise, but you are interested in learning more about fully respectful, peak performance leadership, be sure to visit .
Watch for Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before becoming available very soon as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.