The day after noticing that one of our plants had too many parts on the floor, and mentioning that observation to our plant managers, I saw an entirely changed environment. The plants were organized, the parts were contained, and things were back to normal.
One plant in particular had made significant progress. So, I decided to write them a private note explaining how much their effort meant to me. I also explained why the parts on the floor were so bothersome to me; that while it may sound incredibly crazy to others, but to me I saw some of person x’s healthcare on the floor, person y’s bonus, and all of our ability to invest in future machines, infrastructure, and everything else, on the floor. It simply is more than a plastic part, and even if was just that, that would be enough because plastic waste is a serious issue this day and age (I am not being glib, it REALLY is an important issue). I ended the email telling this team how amazing they are for taking just quick action.
I did not think much of the email after I hit send, until the Plant Manager pulled me aside the following morning. “Your email changed the entire tone of the plant this morning. Three people came up to me and asked if I saw Alex’s email.”
I know this puts me in a positive light, but that is not my intent. My intent is to share the realization that my words, a leader’s words, whether written or spoken, are dissected, internalized, and digested by everyone they impact. This means that as leaders we cannot be callous. Further, we cannot just point out what is wrong. We have to look for, and talk about, what is going right. This is so basic, easy to understand, and yet, hard to do because the subconscious works against us sharing something that feels like juvenile behavior affirmation (“good job class!”). Yet, what others hear is validation for their work, and even therapy for their soul, because they know what they are doing is having an impact.
This is also why adults can remember the exact hurtful words said to them decades ago, and also have affection for grade school teachers whose names they may not even remember.
Words simply matter that much.
Use them wisely.