The Impact We Can Have
It wasn’t expected. When I opened the email, I felt my pulse quicken and my throat constrict as a wave of emotion passed through me that I could hardly contain. The author wasn’t someone with whom I communicated often. In fact, I hadn’t had a conversation with him of any length for over five years, since he attended OnStage Leadership. So when his note arrived, completely out of the blue, it stopped me in my tracks.
I highly suspect that when he wrote to me, in response to my recent feedback blog, that he didn’t fully realize the impact he would have. He had written to say thank you – to share his story and let me know how I’ve helped – and in doing so, gave me an amazing gift.
Over the course of the week I’ve been blogging about noticing, feedback, and appreciation, and what I realize, through his actions, is that I’ve been remiss. That the conversation I had started was far from complete.
To notice and appreciate certainly brings richness into our lives. But to let our positive experiences lie silent in our minds, minimizes their power. While essential to our own personal satisfaction in their own right, when combined with language, they can be transformational to others.
I saw this yesterday when I went to the post office. There are places that are known for their exceptional customer service, and the post office is not typically one of them. I had never had a positive experience going to the post office until I moved to Pelham, NY. That’s where Constance (aka “Connie”) works. She makes everyone standing in line feel like the most important person on earth. She’s always friendly. I watched yesterday as she masterfully cared for everyone she served. Not one person seemed to notice. No one said “thank you”. Of course that didn’t stop her, because that’s not why she does it – for the kudos. She does it because that’s just who she is. But I have to tell you, when it was my turn at the front of the line, after she went out of her way to hunt down my package from the back room, I couldn’t hold back. “Connie, ” I said, “You make me want to come to the post office every day. You are so good at your job.” She stopped, stared at me bewildered, and then lit up like a Christmas tree – beaming from within. “Thank you! Thank you!!! I love my job. I surely do. Thank you!”
It’s what we hunger for most as human beings – to be seen and valued – and not one of us on the planet is exempt from this need. We forget.
We forget to tell our senior leaders that their coaching and mentoring and faith in us makes a difference. Not wanting to be seen as a “suck up”, we say nothing, assuming that someone with their fancy title doesn’t need it, or somehow instinctively knows. I can’t tell you how many sessions I’ve taught in which, when we’re talking about recognizing their direct reports, it’s plain to see that most of them hunger for the same. There’s truth in the saying, “It’s lonely at the top.”
We have oodles of HR recognition programs that systematically reward us for the right behaviors – and that’s great. But without the sincere human one-heart-to-another-heart-connection, those thanks can feel empty and be easily forgotten.
We intentionally mask positive emotions from our vendors to keep them wondering what we think as a negotiation strategy, and squander the opportunity for forging a relationship that leads them to move mountains on our behalf.
We forget to tell the people in our lives who have back-burnered their careers to care for young children or elderly parents, or sick friends, that what they’re doing is extraordinary. That the world needs people with huge hearts who care for those most in need. They, like Connie, don’t do it for the kudos, but desperately need to know that they are valued.
I’m not suggesting that just showing up in life is medal-worthy and that we lavish our praise injudiciously on the world. And yes, I realize that feeding the recognition-junkies in the wild could potentially be dangerous. But let’s not let our concern for giving “big heads” or “setting precedent” get in our way of making a real impact. On someone’s life.
People need to know when they hit the mark. People need to know how their actions make a difference. Don’t make them guess.
Our colleagues, the checker at the grocery store, our kids’ teachers, the guy who cleans the office, the bus driver, our clients, our venders, our friends, the post office lady, our family, the woman who wrote a great HBR article you read on Linkedin, and even the CEO – everyone needs to know they matter. Don’t assume that your paycheck communicates that. Notice. Appreciate. Tell them.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve surrounded myself with people who are gifted in this way. They make me want to be better. To be worthy of what they see in me. They bridge my confidence when it is low and give me strength to keep going when things feel hard. They have made a difference in my life. They have changed me. For good.
Because when we let someone know that they hit the mark, that what they do matters – for real – it can change their life. That’s how powerful we are.
©OnStage Leadership, 2013
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