I’m pleased to present another excerpt from my book, Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams about the importance for senior leaders to do some things personally:
In my own experience as a leader, I have often been surprised at how much impact little things have on people. Each year former and current students from my alma mater, Texas A&M, gather together on the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto to commemorate fellow Aggies who have died during the year. Aggies have been gathering at Muster ceremonies around the world each year since 1922. When I was a young officer on the Pacific Air Force’s staff in Hawaii, I was the chairman of our local Texas A&M Association of Former Students’ Muster Committee. As it happened, General Pat Gamble, the commanding general, was also a Texas Aggie (’67), so we invited him to attend Muster. He was able to come by for a few minutes before heading off to an official function. Our guest speaker that night was another Aggie, Dr. Don Powell (’56), a famous cartoonist who contributed to the Texas A&M school newspaper for a generation. Dr. Powell was the author of a cartoon entitled “dp” that depicted a lovable cadet and his sidekick. It was a cherished memory of days gone by, especially if you were an Aggie sports fan like me. As souvenirs for the evening, Dr. Powell signed copies of his cartoons, so I asked him to sign a “dp” cartoon for General Gamble. Dr. Powell graciously obliged.
The next day at work, I quickly typed up a short note thanking the general for coming to Aggie Muster, attached the signed cartoon, and delivered it to the general’s secretary. I didn’t expect to hear from the general again; after all, he commanded a vast organization responsible for protecting the airspace across the entire Pacific Ocean with thousands of Airmen and hundreds of airplanes, and I was a mere captain. But sure enough, in a day or two I received a handwritten note card with a thank you from the general. That act of kindness—and good manners—made a big impression on me. That handwritten note probably took General Gamble a couple of minutes to write. He likely forgot about it as soon as he’d done it, but to this day that note is the reason I still don’t sign form “letters of appreciation” prepared by my staff. Countless members of my own units have received handwritten notes all because years ago a very busy man took a couple minutes to write a personal note to me.
I have come to believe in the power of the personal touch when leaders interact with their teams. People may say they don’t care about what their leaders think about them, but my experience tells me the opposite. It matters when a leader takes the time to personally recognize excellence and when the leader shows interest in the team members’ families and personal lives. Certainly there is a line that one shouldn’t cross, like dating subordinates or asking uninvited personal questions about family, faith, or politics, but treating people like people who have their own interests and relationships instead of cogs in the machine means leaders should handle some things personally.
Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.