Remember the old game, Follow the Leader?  A group of our friends stood side-by-side, and someone who was chosen as the leader would be in the front facing us.  Everything the leader did, we had to mimic.

That sounds easy enough, but the leader would sometimes fake us out.  He or she would start to move in a certain direction, lulling us into a false sense of security about which move he/she was going to make.  We would just be starting that move when the direction would change and a brand new move would be completed instead, which meant we would be eliminated from the game.

Imagine playing Follow the Leader where five people were standing in front of you and you didn’t know who the leader was.  You might know his name, but if you didn’t know what he looked like, you wouldn’t know who to follow.  Or perhaps you knew her name and what she looked like but never had any exchanges with her.  You might not be as invested in the game as you would be if you actually knew the leader personally.

Invest Some Time in People

The same thing happens in the corporate world.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me they wouldn’t know the CEO of their company if they physically bumped into him or her.  “I know what his name is, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him.”  Or “I’ve seen her, but we only say hello when we pass each other.”  In order for people to have a leader they want to follow, there must be some kind of relationship that exists between the leader and all others.  This is so simple, yet so many leaders fail to recognize it.

The CEO is the Coach of the Entire Team

Can you imagine a head coach of a sports team never communicating with the players?  How successful would the team be if the head coach limited his or her communication to interactions with other coaches?  Sure, the offensive line coach would convey information to the OL, but how motivated would they be to go above and beyond for a team led by someone who wouldn’t engage them at all?   The best teams, the most successful teams, have coaches who are beloved by the team’s players.  Because they work closely together, they have formed a strong relationship, and there is a bond of loyalty that exists.  They don’t want to let coach down.  They don’t want to let their team down.   And finally, they don’t want to let themselves down.

Some of the CEO’s I’ve worked with have said things like, “I’m in charge of a company with a thousand employees.  How could I have a relationship with everyone?”  By sharing that you have a relationship with some, and then casting a wider net.

Acknowledge Some to Signal You’re Paying Attention to All

Every one or two weeks, the CEO sends an all-staff email out to address things that have happened within the company.  She includes things like, “Thanks to our marketing department, we now have new brochures for our sales division.  I’d like to thank Christine and the extremely talented group of people on her team – Bill, Cheryl, Luis, and Kelly.  The brochures look fantastic and I know how hard you worked on them.  I saw the late night lights burning in your department, and the cars parked in the lot after 6:00, so I know you worked additional hours to get this done.  Thank you all!”

They may only represent a very small portion of the company, but people will read that and think, ‘I had no idea the CEO paid attention to what we were doing!’  And the natural extension of that thought is, if she knows what that team is doing, she’s paying attention to our team, too.  By virtue of recognizing some in your company, you let everyone in your company know you’re watching, you’re appreciative, and you’re not afraid to say so.

If you spend only fifteen to thirty minutes every one or two weeks on this, it will be an investment that will pay off in a big way.  Employees fear the CEO they simply see.   They feel loyal toward the CEO who engages them and makes them feel he or she cares.  Eventually, you’ll catch everyone doing something right or contributing in a way that warrants recognition.

Other Ways to Say ‘Thanks!’

If you are running an organization with one location, you can pick up bagels or donuts to bring to the department.  You can have someone from another department take a photo of you with the team and send it with the email in which you acknowledge their hard work.  Write ‘Thanks for all you do!’, sign it, frame it, and give it to the manager to hang in the department.  New people will ask, ‘What’s this about?’  ‘Oh, we created new brochures for the sales team and the CEO was so impressed she came down to thank us and sent out a company-wide email with this picture.’  Can you imagine the response that will get? ‘The CEO came down herself to thank you?’  ‘Yes, she did!’

If the weather is bad and some employees made it in, walk around and thank those who made the additional effort in getting to work.  Ask how their commute was and let them know you’re concerned about their safety and don’t expect them to stay all day if the bad weather continues.  These things take minimal time and zero dollars and convey a message you can’t put a dollar value on.

“Those 15 Minutes Have Become My Favorite Time of the Week”

One CEO wrote me last month to say he took my advice, and Friday is the day he sends his email out, acknowledging the extra efforts of a department, or individuals.  He wrote, “Those fifteen minutes have become my favorite time of the week because I’m not thinking about any problems or challenges, I’m only thinking about how grateful I am to be heading up an organization with such great people!”

I’m sure his employees also feel grateful they work for a CEO who goes above and beyond, setting the tone for what they should be doing, as well.

Follow the leader.







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