Developing an Intentional Leadership Style
The first couple times I do it, folks don’t know what the hell is happening. Most look down or immediately blush. Some shift their weight from one foot to the other absentmindedly. Others stare back at me for an uncomfortable two or three seconds to make sure I’m finished.
Whether as a result of being a father and telling my kids how amazing I think they are all the time or because I’ve become more reflective as I age, I now subscribe to a simple mantra, Say It.
After a Saturday morning jaunt to a trampoline park with my kids, we decided to stop at Dunkin Donuts for a snack. The young man behind the counter, who was clearly working harder than everyone else there, gave my son a free Munchkin as we waited for our food. My daughter, who had already found us a table, didn’t get one but didn’t even realize it. Several minutes later, the attendant walked over with another Munchkin and apologized for not seeing my daughter in the first place. We thanked him, and then I just started to watch him work.
He was frenetic in his approach. He was cheerful in every interaction. He knew regulars by name and by the time of day they came in. He was really good at his job.
So I told him.
“Say man, thanks again for the freebies. You’re really good at your job. You should be proud.”
Like I said, people don’t know what to make of me at first. My sense is our society has become so sarcastic, so negative, so sub-Tweet-y that our natural instinct is to expect the worst from each other. But when he realized, after a long couple of seconds, that I was genuine, he just smiled and squeaked out a barely audible “thank you, sir.”
Telling people what they mean to me, how proud I am of them, or how good they are at their jobs, has changed the way I the way I see the world and how I choose to lead.
When I watched my math interventionist instill confidence in struggling learners, I crafted an email on the spot that started with the line, “I love to watch you work.”
When I finished an observation in 4th grade, I made a beeline for the teacher, who was already beaming because her kids had crushed the lesson, and told her how insanely good the lesson was, tipping my administrative hand long before I submitted her scores.
When a 3rd grader forgot her homework, I let her back in the building and then marched over to the waiting car in which sat her mom and grandma, “Can I just tell you how much I love your daughter? She is constantly smiling, working hard, and being kind. You should be proud.” I can’t be sure, but I think mom teared up as she rolled the window back up.
But it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stop in my professional life.
My wife is beautiful and an uber talented fundraiser, so I tell her.
My son is ridiculously funny for a 5 year old, so I tell him.
My daughter is creative and empathetic and already a better person than me, so I tell her.
My brother has had a difficult life but is really trying, and I’m proud of him, so I tell him.
At first, shifting our consciousness from thinking it to saying it is intentional and uncomfortable. Eventually, however, it becomes ingrained, an expectation, an accepted invitation from the world to see it and say it.
So, see it. And say it.