On January 11, NYU School of Law’s Leadership Mindset and the Forum on Law, Culture & Society (FOLCS) co-hosted the conversation, “Leadership, Love, and the Law,” with three giants in the restaurant and theater worlds. Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG); Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters; and Rocco Landesman, president emeritus of Jujamcyn, discussed how individual leadership styles can benefit from incorporating an unlikely concept: love.

Jeannie ForrestThis conversation exemplified the Leadership Mindset, a signature experience at the Law School that encompasses the intensive training, specialized programs, regular events, invaluable mentor relationships, and other experiences and exposure to ethical and inclusive leadership concepts that students receive. Jeannie Forrest, vice dean for development and leadership initiatives, introduced the conversation, which was moderated by Thane Rosenbaum, director of FOLCS.

Danny MeyerIn his 2006 memoir and business guide Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, Meyer advocated developing a workplace culture of “enlightened hospitality” that emphasizes employee satisfaction. Prioritizing employee happiness, he said, creates a “virtuous cycle,” since that in turn boosts customer and investor satisfaction. Recently named to TIME’s 100 Most Influential People as “dining’s best boss,” he spoke from the vantage point of a restaurateur with a successful 30-year career.

Rocco LandesmanLandesman agreed with the need for fostering an esprit de corps. “Creating a loving experience starts right at home with having an organization where, from the top down, people feel that they’re valued and that people care about them.”

This type of leadership includes not just the everyday intangibles of the work environment but also being sensitive and aware of factors that affect employees’ lives, according to Meyer. For example, USHG made headlines late last year with its bold decision to do away with tipping. Meyer explained that tips cannot be shared with employees who do not spend the majority of their work interacting directly with diners, so this was an effort to reduce the extreme difference between what the front and back of house make. The trick, he said, is elevating the income of cooks and other low-income staff without reducing the income of waitstaff.

Jordan RothAs employees internalize a positive work culture and the experience that a company wants to convey—its “authentic voice,” as Roth called it—they can also interact more effectively with customers. “The result of inverting the leadership pyramid is we are creating a company of leaders,” Roth said. “Because when that theatergoer has a problem with their ticket, I’m not there, Rocco’s not there, and the house manager may not be there. The usher who is there is the leader of our company at that moment for our customer.”

Thane RosenbaumIn theater and dining, caring about the customer’s experience is crucial, yet the conversation’s participants maintained that having these emotional skills—which Meyer calls a person’s “hospitality quotient”—is key for lawyers as well. As Roth put it, “I don’t know any business that isn’t a hospitality business.” Just as theaters and restaurants need to create positive experiences, lawyers need to make sure clients feel that they are “on their side.”

“Our lawyers don’t talk to us as vendors or tacticians,” Roth said. “They’re partners.”

Watch the conversation (53 min):

Posted January 15, 2016