There’s a question every leader should regularly ask that I suspect seldom gets asked, much less answered: What is it that makes your day?
You need to answer this for yourself as a leader, but there’s a bigger reason for digging into this question than simply setting your sights on your goals. More importantly, it will help you lead others, which, if you’re a leader, is the goal that drives all the other goals.
For this to happen, however, you have to move beyond the obvious answers to the question. You could start with the satisfaction of achieving your goals – getting a raise, winning the contract for a new client, crushing an important presentation … Those are all great. You worked hard for them, so it makes sense to enjoy the payoff.
To me, however, there’s something extra special about an unexpected make-my-day moment. And if we can identify what those moments are for us as leaders, we then can provide them for those we lead. We can make their day.
Let me give you one of my favorite examples.
As a Penn State alum, I’m a huge fan of running back Saquon Barkley. He was a great player in college, and earlier this year the New York Giants picked him second in the NFL draft. Like most football experts, the Giants’ coaches expect Barkley to be a star. The thing is, he already is. In fact, a simple random act of kindness made it clear he was a star long before he even played a game at Penn State.
In addition to playing football, Barkley ran track for Lehigh Valley High School. During a meet in 2015, he stood watching one of the other races – the girls’ 100-meter hurdles. Rachel Panek, then a sophomore at Saucon Valley High School, finished first, but the automatic clock didn’t work correctly. So, the officials had the girls re-run the race. During the 30 minutes she had to rest, she competed in the long jump. But she still felt confident she would win again. Instead, Panek clipped one of the hurdles and finished last in the race.
Barkley witnessed the heartbreak. In the race just before Panek re-ran her event, Barkley had won the boys 100-meter finals. In fact, Panek had held the starting block for Barkley. It was the first time they had ever met. But Barkley empathized for Panek, so much so that he gave her his first-place medal.
“It’s really hard to explain,” Barkley said at the time, “but something inside of me told me it’d be the right thing to do to give her my medal. Honestly, I love winning races and receiving medals, but I felt she deserved it, too. Everyone saw that girl win her race.”
Panek, of course, was moved from tears of sorrow to tears of joy.
“It’s not the fact that I didn’t get a medal or first place in the league that I’ll remember,” Panek said. “It’s that somebody noticed and that someone cared enough to make my day by giving me something that meant a lot to them. That’s what I’ll remember forever.”
Barkley made her day, and I consider him a star because such acts are part of his lifelong leadership pattern.
I made a quick list of ways that others have made my day over the years, because, as a leader, I want to do those same things for the people in my life. Here are three things I came up with that any of us can practice.
When someone provides a random act of kindness.
When people demonstrate love and give to others, especially to people they don’t know, it renews hope and distributes joy. Example? Saquon Barkley. Duh. At work, you might write someone a handwritten note, nominate them for an award, help them on a project, praise their work in front of co-workers or pay for their lunch without them knowing who did it.
When someone provides a compliment you weren’t seeking.
When you seek a compliment, it’s simply affirmation of an expectation. When it’s unexpected, it lifts you up. Example? Not long ago a college student who is on a board with me mentioned that he had been reading my blogs and enjoying them. I often write these blogs with next-generation leaders in mind, so it was a thrill to hear that one of those leaders was finding my insights helpful.
When someone confirms that those you love and have invested in are doing well.
It’s great, for instance, to see my son or daughter act in a respectful manner. It is positive affirmation of our parenthood. It’s even better to hear positive stories about them from others. Not long ago, a friend who is in business told me he had been in a meeting with my son and he tossed out several compliments about my son that made my chest swell with pride. As a leader, it makes my day to see evidence that others are rising toward their potential, whether it’s one of our children or someone with whom I work.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy a make-your-day moment. So, again, I ask the question: What is it that makes your day? When you experience those moments, celebrate them. The best ones, you might find, come when you do something that provides those moments for others.