The Two Most Powerful Leadership Phrases

Thought for the day:

“A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.”

Leadership lesson 101: The two most powerful phrases of any leader are:

No need to spend thousands of dollars for a leadership offsite if you can’t naturally say either of those phrases and MEAN IT.

Childhood lesson

Why is that so hard? As a child, our parents or other adult would remind us, “What do you say?” And reflexively, we would face the person and say, “Thank you.” As soon as we could talk, we were taught that appreciative message.

What happened? Did some of us forget that lesson? Did we just think we had to do it while on stage?

I realized a long time ago the value of saying thank you. My mother had a saying that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

I reflect a lot on my upbringing; how my parents instilled in me certain values and most importantly, the people value ones. That is a teaching I always come back to.

Our lives are rushed to a breaking point, yet I have always noticed that the bright spots are when I show appreciation for the smallest of deeds. My bright spots are when I acknowledge a person with a kind word or phrase, because maybe that encounter could be an anchor point in their lives.

Everyone adds value

A few years back, Walt Bettinger, the CEO of Charles Schwab, told the story of his final exam in a business strategy class. On exam day, the professor handed out a single sheet of paper. Both sides were blank. The professor explained to the bewildered students that he had given this class his all. As Bettinger recalled, the professor said, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this — What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?”

The purpose was to teach them a powerful lesson, that no matter the role, everyone adds value.

So the final exam question was asking them to name the person who cleans up after them. Dottie was a cleaning lady, the type of person we encounter each and every day but who are basically invisible to us.

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Bettinger failed the test, but he never forgot the lesson. The people we can’t recognize on the org chart are just as valuable as the ones at the top.

My early leadership lesson

I learned this management principle from the founding CEO of Martha Stewart Living when I was VP of Human Resources. Her name was Sharon Patrick. Sharon exhibited a behavior I had never seen until then. She had a natural leadership style. Always with a smile, there was laughter when in her presence.

She knew each employee and each day when she arrived she would stop at any point and have a conversation, whether that was with the driver, the mailroom guys or office cleaners. She showed a caring for her employees that permeated the entire organization. Everyone referred to her as Sharon. The ease that people had in walking up and having a conversation with her was so effortless. My goal was to be like Sharon.

Our company at that point in time was just like a family, there was genuine concern for each other. As members faced challenges, we all felt a duty to each other. I can gladly say that at one point in my life I worked at a company where engagement was off the charts.

Giving it their all

I remember coming into New York City on a Saturday and having to stop by the office. Got off the elevator and I heard voices. As I walked around the corner, I saw a group at their stations working. I walked over and said hello. In speaking with the manager of this group, I asked why are you guys here on a Saturday working. The response floored me: “We do this all the time. We find we can get more work done; the place is quiet. We work for a few hours or so then we hang out for dinner or drinks later in the afternoon.”

“A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.”

Recognize the small people, appreciate the ones who are not in the spotlight. That approach will create a link to your workforce that flows up as opposed to cascading down.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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