The Unexpected Secrets Of Leadership. True Story.

In Touch - Newsletter - #37

Welcome to the thirty-seventh edition of "In Touch". As always, I would love to continue the conversation so please hit "reply" and let me know what you think.

Story of the Week: The Unexpected Secrets Of Leadership. True Story.

The entire world stopped breathing on the 26th of November 2008. 

That evening, a group of terrorists from Pakistan started coordinated shootings and bombing attacks in Mumbai, targeting a restaurant, a hospital, a busy train station, a Jewish community centre, and taxis, as well as the landmark luxury hotel Taj. 

During three days of horror, the terrorists killed 159 people and wounded 211 across the city. Of these, 34 people died and 28 were injured during the three-day siege of the landmark luxury hotel. 

What no-one knew at the time – it was later the subject of a Harvard Business School (HBS) study – was this: 

The vast majority, if not all, of the Taj Bombay Hotel employees knew the escape routes like the back of their hand and yet, during the three-day siege, not one of them opted to leave. 

On the contrary, they helped between 1,200 and 1,500 guests to hide and escape from the hotel. 

The entire kitchen staff, chefs, security, waiters, telephonists… everyone worked around the clock, risking their lives and acting as human shields to save the lives of the guests, and, in a few cases, tragically losing their own. 

Their heroic behaviour was later the subject of a multimedia case study entitled "Terror at the Taj Bombay: Customer-Centric Leadership" by HBS Professor Rohit Deshpande, in which he posed the million-dollar question: 

How come the employees didn’t escape from the hotel but decided to stay and save the guests’ lives?

Professor Deshpande gave six main reasons as the answer: 


  1. The Taj Bombay prefers to hire from smaller cities rather than major ones because it is there that traditional Indian values still hold strong. 
  2. The Taj recruits young people who display three key traits: respect for the elderly, cheerfulness, and need (so they are selected for their attitude instead of their academic grades). 
  3. The Taj trains its selected for 18 months, instead of the industry standard of 12 months. 
  4. At managerial level, the Taj recruits from the lower-tier B-schools since they have found that MBA graduates from these institutes wish to build a career with a single company and tend to fit in better with the hotel’s customer-centric culture. 
  5. Taj employees are empowered to take decisions as agents of the customer, which makes them feel in command. 
  6. The Taj has a 48-hour reward scheme, which, encourages every employee to submit suggestions and lead the change in elevating the customer experience. If a suggestion is considered extraordinary, it will be implemented immediately and the employee responsible for it will be rewarded within 48 hours. 

By empowering each employee to be a leader and take decisions as "an agent of the customer”, the Taj Bombay Hotel has created an astonishing work ethic and atmosphere. 

I was speechless when I read this remarkable and eye-opening story about the hotel’s recruitment process and leadership philosophy. 

How about you? 

Which leadership approach of the Taj's management surprised you the most? 

Let me know in the comments or hit the reply button.