One of the sheep/goat divides in human nature is whether those in senior roles are pleasant and courteous to the apparently ordinary folk who serve them.

The Queen is unfailingly so, Prince Charles has a reputation for peevishness. This is never more apparent than when the powerful person is in the role of customer.

Friend A's client, a minor university college, asked A to show it how to do its own updating on the excellent website A had created for it. A did so without charging. The client was unable to apply the learning and in a carefully staged tantrum refused to pay the balance of the already-modest fee.

Friend B runs a high-quality specialist food shop. His customer, occupying the biggest house in B's town, claimed that one of B's range of wonderful, hand-created curry sauces was 'too hot', despite the label clearly describing it as 'fiery'. The customer asked for her money back and petulantly demanded a refund for replacing the meal allegedly 'ruined'.

Friend C supplied soft furnishings to a celebrity who refused to pay the bill on grounds of cash shortage. When C politely asked for her money, the client sent a bulky six-footer round to her workshop to make vague threats intended to be frightening. (This backfired spectacularly. C dissolved into giggles when she recognised the would-be tough man as a lad who had been a childhood friend of her own son.)

Friend D, running a one-person consultancy, was asked by a large NHS organisation to run a five-day course for free on the grounds of limited funds and told that D ought to be flattered by the chance to work with them.

These customers were people who, by virtue of wealth, fame or power, considered themselves above the need to be polite or generous with those who could be brushed off as 'unimportant'. While we at Management Futures have mostly been treated impeccably, there have also been exceptions. A bid for work at an ambulance trust took many days of two people's time, but requests for information about the outcome were all resolutely ignored.

Unlike the past there are DIY remedies: we little people can now blog, kiss and tell and contribute our blackest anecdotes to www.TheTruthAbout(fill-in-the-blanks-yourself).com.

Winning allies

But there are more positive reasons for good behaviour from our seniors. Accompanying one of my chief executive clients around his hospital I was impressed by his easy humour and his graceful way with everyone he met. He was the same with porters as he was with his chair.

Later, facing a funding crisis, it did not surprise me that he quickly achieved a successful outcome by drawing on unquestioning loyalty from his staff. Similarly, Greg Dyke's accessibility heading the BBC created unprecedented willingness to make changes which had been dourly resisted under his more haughty predecessor, John Birt.

It costs nothing and ultimately it pays off to be nice to waiting staff, ancillaries, receptionists, secretaries and suppliers. Never underestimate the power of the little people.

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