But that’s not what makes people stay.
Making people feel valued, important, special, needed – or whatever other simplistic leadership instructions you read in How to Win Friends and Influence People – is pretty much expected at this point. It’s the baseline requirement of being a leader.
But that’s not what makes people stay.
If you want the people who matter most to show up in full voice, work their hearts out for you spread the organizational love like a fever, you have to make them feel essential.
Essential meaning, “Your work matters.”
Essential meaning, “We would crumble without you.”
Essential meaning, “If you were gone, people would notice.”
Are you a practitioner of essentialism? If not, try these ideas:
1. What do you see when you see people? That’s the question approachability hinges upon. For example, last week I met a woman whose specialty was securing venture capital funding. Neat lady. She was sharp, aggressive and energizing. But when she learned about my work, she confessed that her clients and colleagues historically perceived her as being unapproachable.
“The problem is, only one out of a hundred people I meet are ideal clients. And my default programming is to uncover – as quickly as possible – whether or not they’re one of the ninety-nine. Otherwise I lose interest.”
Which makes total sense. Especially from a prospecting point of view: You don’t want to burn your days chasing non-economic buyers. But while it’s one thing to qualify – it’s another things to compartmentalize everyone you meet into convenient little boxes.
Turns out, if you approach people as unique individuals – as human beings – they remember feeling essential. But if you exploit them as a means to an end – as integers – they remember feeling small. Are you memorable for the right reasons?
2. Decide how you want to leave people. Approachability is about how people experience themselves in relation to you. And while you can’t control people’s emotions – outside of manipulation, punishment and coercion – what you can do is be more intentional in how you walk away from them.
Want to leave people laughing? Help them evoke the humor in their own lives.
Want to leave people inspired? Enable them to give birth to their own realizations.
Want to leave people heard? Reflect their reality by taking.
Your challenge is twofold: First, to identify the baseline emotion you want to leave people with. Second: To remind yourself of that emotion on a daily basis. Because in the end, it’s not about being the life of the party – it’s about bringing other people to life at the party. And it’s not who you know – it’s whose life is better because they know you. When you walk out of a room how does it change?
3. The speed of the response is the response. Marshall McLuhan was right: The medium is the message. And when you hold a leadership position, that principle seeps its way into everything you do – especially now.
Because culturally, “good, fast and cheap” has been replaced by “perfect, now and free.” How are you adapting to that shift?
Here are three examples: First, questions. Because it’s not just about being askable – it’s about how quickly you let people know that you’re searching for an answer. Second, responses. Because it’s not just what you say – it’s about how long you make people wait before they hear it.
Third, troubles. Because it’s not just about fixing the problem – it’s about how well you communicate to people as you fix it. Without that kind of “speed sensibility,” your people end up suffering in silence. And instead feeling essential – they feel evaded. Do you return calls faster than your competitors?
4. Preserve people’s fingerprints. As an artist, I make a conscious effort to alert people when they’ve inspired my work. Not with a thank you note. Not with a one-word text message. And not with some insincere compliment they forget by lunch. I physically gift them a copy of the finished product they helped created.
Whether it’s a book, an article or a limited edition art piece, I want them to own it. Forever. Because it wouldn’t have come into existence without them, and they deserve to see it live.
Notice I said gift – not give. Huge difference.
If you want to make people feel essential, don’t gift expecting reciprocation – gift to let people to know their words have weight. Gift to keep your art in motion. Gift to bring yourself closer to the recipient. Gift to help people remember that their existence matters.
Remember: Success never comes unassisted. Learn how to thank or get out. How do you pay homage to the voices that shape you?
5. Recognition is the mainspring of motivation. People crave recognition. It’s a universal human need. And it’s one of the chief determinants of employee engagement. But, whether or not people satisfy that need depends on if they can answer, “yes” to the following question:
Is my voice heard here?
My friend Derek is a master of this. His marketing agency, goBRANDgo, has a “Win Wall” in their office. Every time an employee achieves a victory of any kind – from landing a new client to delivering ahead of schedule to killing that pesky mosquito that’s been buzzing around since August – they write it on a sticky note.
And the cool part is, each employee has his or her own color. Then, at the end of the week, they aggregate all the wins onto a blog post for the entire world to see. Totally awesome.
And the lesson: It’s not about just praising people publicly – it’s about being a stand for people’s greatness. It’s about giving them a front row seat to their own brilliance – while inviting the rest of the world to sit in the audience with them.
That’s the secret to recognition: Isn’t corporate initiative – it’s a constitutional ingredient. How are you making gratitude palpable and recurrent?
6. Increase your mental flexibility. Have you ever worked with somebody who went out of their way to pretend like they cared? Like the boss who thoroughly listens to your input, thanks you for your suggestion, and then goes back to doing exactly what he planned all along. Geh.
Nothing makes people feel smaller. I’m reminded of a classic Scott Adams cartoon in which Dilbert undergoes a performance evaluation. Sitting across the table in complete silence, his manager says, “I’m not going to comment – I’ll just look at you until you agree with me.”
If you want people to feel essential, let them experience that they can change your mind. Be quick to ask for their opinion, and be slow to interrupt when they give it. This shows them that you can bend. That you’re vulnerable enough to admit that your perceptions might be misguided. And that you’re willing to shelf your ego and approach everyone as your mentor. Do you treat people like vestigial parts, helpful additions or vital components?
REMEMBER: Making people feel important isn’t that important.
What matters is that they feel essential.
That you honor their essence as a human being.
And that’s something you’ll never learn from a Dale Carnegie book.
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
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