The Power of Seemingly Small Gestures

A leader’s values show up in their actions. It is important for leaders to “walk the talk” and live their own and the organization’s values. Our resident Seasoned Leader David Spong illustrates that principle here: 

The first few weeks of my time on the C-17 program I was meeting and learning about the team members. I found that I had a very limited budget, a very small team and the team was spread out across the facility with many housed in trailers. The “normal” approach for leaders would be to invite the team members to a meeting in the leaders’ office to best utilize the leader’s time by limiting travel time. However, in the facilities in which we were operating, getting to my office meant the workers had to either walk or worse, take a bus which only ran infrequently. This probably took at least an hour in addition to the meeting time, which severely impacted their work output. 

I opted for an alternate approach; I drove to the trailer where they were located which was easy for me since I had the privilege of driving inside the plant. It took probably 5 minutes for me to get to them where it would have taken them much longer to come to me. We had our meeting sitting around the group leader’s conference table. After we concluded our discussion, the group leader said to me, “When we look at the leadership of this organization it is like looking into the darkest of dark night sky with you the one shining star!” I was amazed and humbled by his comments. We are still friends today some 32 years later! All it took was me going to them rather than making them come to me!  

I don’t think that I made a conscious effort to try to “lighten the dark sky” rather I just led the way I knew and did the things that are described in these articles. In many of my presentations I have described a leadership model as a filter around the organization that contains the values of the leader, whether he or she does it intentionally. If the leader is there, for even a short time, the organization very quickly adopts the leader’s values. I found that engineers who were not part of my organizational domain came to me to support their initiatives because their leaders were unsupportive. To quote an old phrase it is about “walking the talk.”

Another example occurred when I was leading the Aerospace Support organization. Typically, my secretary worked from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. while I stayed until maybe 6:30 p.m. People in the organization would often call her number after 4:30 ask for something as simple as a phone number. When that happened, I would get up from my desk and go to her Rolodex to look up the number they wanted. Then at her desk I would pick up her phone to give the caller the number. Typically, at this point the caller would realize it was me and say, “I didn’t mean to bother you, I will call back in the morning when she is back.”  

My point is that if my help moves the enterprise along it is worth my time and obviously it helps set the culture of a caring, supportive organization. I strongly believe that no one should be too good to do seemingly "small" tasks that help someone else, especially where you are living that value, or walking that talk. I am always impressed when I am visiting a business whose employees are struggling to keep up with demand when the manager “puts on an apron” and pitches in! 

At Seasons Leadership we believe in values-driven leadership. When a leader honors their own and the organization’s values, it is obvious and helps drive the culture of the organization. By honoring his values, David was demonstrating what he expected of the organization and driving the culture he wanted. A leadership tip you can implement is to identify your own values and think about whether you honor those values in your day-to-day leadership practices. Then adjust your actions as needed to ensure you’re demonstrating the type of leader you want to be. 

You can read more of David’s Lessons in Leadership column by subscribing to our Seasons Leadership Patreon site:

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'Seasoned Leader,’ E. David Spong, met Debbie Collard, co-founder of Seasons Leadership, when they worked together at Boeing. After their successes leading teams using the Baldrige Framework, they co-wrote a book called "The Making of a World-Class Organization." Recently, David joined the Seasons Leadership community as a guest on the Seasons Leadership Podcast. He has committed to continue to share his “Lessons in Leadership” in this exclusive column.

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