People will not always remember what you said, but they will always remember the way you made them feel. This statement has been attributed to many people over the years. Most recently I got to hear a story from an elderly woman about how her great grandmother lived to be over 100 years old. As the woman recalled the strength and presence of her great grandmother she did not focus on the words of her departed grandparent, but more on the way she felt just being around her. Her great grandmother commanded respect and gave respect in her actions, her steadiness in family storms, and the love she lived for her family. The woman I was speaking with had lost her great grandmother 60 years ago. It was evident that her great grandmother had made a lasting impression.
One of the ways I am trying to leave an impression on my children is through what our family refers to as bagel day. You see bagel day is the day after Friday and the day before Sunday. In fact, I am convinced that if you ask my daughters to name the days of the week they would say, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Bagel Day. I started this tradition with my twin daughters when they were 2 years old. Every Saturday we would get up and I would take them to have bagels. It is our daddy daughter time. I have rarely missed a Saturday over the last six years. They look forward to it. It starts on a Thursday, they begin to count down the days till bagel day. As the years have gone by we have gone from me dressing them to them dressing themselves. Now at age 8 they come in dressed and ready to go waking me up. This tradition makes them feel special and loved. Sometimes we have a lot of dialog over bagels, most time we just eat and smile. They will not remember all the things that are said over the years of Saturday bagels but they will remember how daddy made them feel.
About 10 months ago we moved to a different state. One of the first things we did was search out the perfect bagel shop. We tried 3 or 4 but the girls said “None of them feel right”. One of them had terrific bagels, but the service was not very good. You see from ages 2-6 years old we had gone to the same bagel shop at the beach where we lived. The staff knew my girls by name and always greeted them with special smiles and added treats. The awesome way they made my girls feel (and of course that means the most to any parent) coupled with daddy time is what they remember. So nothing would do until we could replicate that here in our new town. Well, after searching we found the spot. The owner and staff make my girls feel special. They expect us every Saturday morning and greet us with familiar and friendly smiles. We make small talk and the girls will talk about our dog or their week, but it is not the conversations that they treasure it is the feeling. For this reason we pass 2 bagel places on our drive to “our bagel” shop.
As leaders more of our day is valued by how we make others feel then in what we produce. Depending on where you are in your career you may not be responsible for producing daily tangible deliverables or configuring system changes. More than likely you are responsible for leading those incredible people who are delivering the tangibles and engineering the systems. How we make them feel can be the difference between engaged and disengaged employees. Our words are powerful and we have to be clear, honest, and consistent in our communication. How we make others feel when they engage with us is important. As a leader I am called on to interact, make decisions, set direction, and sometimes correct the course. How a leader does that is critical. How a person or persons feel when they leave a conversation with me has a large impact on how that person will carry out the mission. I am a work in progress in this area. I have to remind myself that what I am thinking and saying may not be perceived as I intended. I have to be cognizant of my audience, my body language and their body language. I want them to remember what I say and in order to have any chance of that I have to be aware of how I am making them feel. Now I know for many leaders this seem touchy feely and very contradictory to great leadership. Hear me out, a great leader can inspire and correct if our motives are right. The guys at the bagel shop show special attention to my girls so that they can keep my business. There is no doubt about that. However, they also make them feel valuable because in their hearts they see value in my little ones. They don’t just see a customer they see two girls spending Saturday breakfast with their dad and they want that to be a good experience.
What do we see when others come in contact with us? Do we look past a missed deadline and see the person? Do we course correct while lifting others up? I look for great leaders who have conquered this ability to be firm, yet leave people feeling valued. I observe those tough conversations to see how the leader handles themselves. I keep trying to learn how to master the art of what Colin Powell calls the “calm zone”. The “calm zone” is part of an emotional spectrum that General Powell worked hard to learn and maintain. He never loses his cool yet no one would even dare call him a touchy feely leader. We talk about this a lot on CultureInfusion, leadership is not about title. It is about putting others first, moving obstacles, and inspiring greatness in others. Just like the woman’s great grandmother a leader should impart wisdom both in words and deeds so that others may pave the road to an even greater tomorrow.