Good leaders possess a wide variety of skills. Great leaders have at least one additional skill: A flair for the dramatic.
Here’s a cool story ex-NASCAR driver Rick Mast told me about Dale Earnhardt, Sr., not only a legendary driver but also an outstanding businessman who built a business and marketing empire.
In the early 90s Rick was hosting a charity event. He needed a “name” to ensure a good crowd so he asked Earnhardt to participate. Dale agreed but on one condition: He could only attend for two hours.
Rick agreed, well aware that that even a little Dale was infinitely better than no Dale at all.
On the day of the event a huge line formed hours in advance. Earnhardt arrived on time, signed autographs, and with a couple minutes to go before the two-hour time limit threw a meaningful glance at Rick.
Mast took the hint. He put up a rope barrier and said to the crowd, “I’m sorry, folks, but if you are behind this line we won’t be able to accommodate you. We’re almost out of time.”
Several hundred people groaned and started to drift away. Dale kept his head down, signed one more autograph… and with a keen sense of timing glanced up and said, “Hey…. what’s going on?”
Heads turned as Rick stammered, “I… I told them we are out of time, Dale.”
“What?” he half-shouted. “You might be out of time, but I’m not. I ain’t leaving until I’ve met everybody here!”
The crowd cheered, the line reformed, and Earnhardt created a few hundred more fans for life.
“Sure, he kinda made me look bad,” Rick says, “but I didn’t mind at all. That was just Dale being Dale.”
There’s no way to know but I think Earnhardt had always intended to stay. So he could have just signed and smiled and made everyone happy.
Instead he maximized the impact of his appearance with a theatrical turn. People in attendance undoubtedly went home and told their friends, “You should have seen it… they were about to send us all home but Dale stepped in and said he wasn’t leaving until he met every one of us!”
Theatrical? Sure. Calculated? Probably.
The same principle applies to recognising and inspiring employees.
If you present an employee award, turn the occasion into a moment the recipient can share with others. Find a simple way to increase the impact—on the person being honored and on those who participate.
If your company achieves a milestone, celebrate the achievement publicly. When you hire a new employee, do more than simply turn her over to a mentor or trainer. Find a way to make her feel a part of the company family right away.
Take time to make even the smallest events noteworthy, because “moments” build a company culture much more effectively than posters, banners, and mission statements. Most employees will never talk about mission statements. But they will always talk about people.
Just make sure you always focus the “show” on your employees, not on yourself.
Your employees are the ones who deserve the stage—and the applause.
For more on employee recognition:
- 9 Elements of Highly Effective Employee Praise
- The Power of Praise
- 4 Employee Rewards More Powerful Than Money
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