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Leadership Lessons from Maya Angelou

Don't underestimate the power of making people feel amazing.
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The quantity of social media posts shows how deeply Dr. Maya Angelou affected people. She was a poet, author, historian, civil right activist, educator, and the grace of her words touched the world. My favorite Maya Angelou quote has been a guiding principle for my business, and my life: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

It could be the plumber, the dental hygienist, the delivery guy. Some people have a natural way of making others feel incredible. It's impossible to forget them. They don't just provide a product or service--they have a true gift for connecting on a deeper human level. In the course of an ordinary business transaction, they are extraordinary and how they make you feel feeds your soul.

After 17 years working with 500 clients and more than 2,000 marketing consultants, I believe it is easy to spot people who will be consistently successful. Many can say and do great things--but only a few elicit a spontaneous and resounding, "Awww, we love her/him!" Such people leave a deep, indelible imprint on our heart. “The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.” So in honor of the sage, Dr. Angelou, here are three easy ways you can make people feel absolutely amazing.

1. Pay attention and listen.  

I mean really listen. We can be so focused on our own agenda we don't take the time to absorb what others are saying. Employees, customers, prospects, partners, family, friends--people who matter to you deserve to be heard.

Most of my business is generated over lunch or coffee meetings. I don't use slides, brochures or a formal spiel. I'll ask prospects about their latest family adventures, if they had time to enjoy their hobbies, or how their team is coping with a recent re-org. Then I shut up and listen. It's not business development, it's relationship development. In this era of 140 characters and barrage of 24/7 content, attentive listening is a rare gift that's truly remarkable.

2. Surprise with kindess.

Unexpected goodness doesn’t have to cost a lot to make a major impact. Send a pick-me-up Starbucks coffee via Facebook. Write a glowing LinkedIn recommendation. Honor people by recommending them to others. Share their social media posts.

My friend told me her boss surprised her with a sailor's knot "for being one of the knots in her life string." The knots represented people who had a huge impact on the boss's life, for believing in her even when she lacked self-confidence--what a priceless, symbolic gesture. Maya Angelou would approve.

3. Remember important details.

Do you remember which client plays in a jazz band? The supplier training for her first marathon? Even if you don't share the same passion for their athletic team or exotic foods, sending little newsy tidbits or texting a photo with "I saw this and thought of you!" can brighten their day and cement a place in their heart. For example, I have an instant affinity for anyone who adores Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, or knows that "Fight on!" is the appropriate salutation during college football season.

As Maya Angelou would say, "If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be." Is your business normal? Don’t be normal. Be amazing. And use these tips to help your employees, customers and partners feel amazing, too!

 

 

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: May 30, 2014

RENE SHIMADA SIEGEL | Columnist | Founder, High Tech Connect

Rene Shimada Siegel is founder and president of High Tech Connect, a unique consulting partner for expert marketing and communications. After a successful career in Silicon Valley, she founded her company 15 years ago while juggling three kids under the age of five.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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