Denny Smith
Leadership and Development Trainer

I was co-chair of the 55th reunion of the Morton High School Class of 1962. I know a lot of authors claim that they graduated from Morton High School in Morton, Minnesota, but I actually did.

One of the tasks was to compile the booklet with everyone’s updated bio sketch. Looking back at our 50th reunion information, I noticed one of the classmate’s sketch was a something like, “Life goes on,” which is pretty non-descript. I phoned her and asked, “Nancy, why don’t you send me an email about some of your fond memories of MHS?” She said, “I don’t have fond memories of MHS.” I understood what she was saying. She was not always in the inner circle.

Then she added, “But Mr. Root said ‘Hi’ to me every morning. He’s the only one that did.” Mr. Root was the new band director our senior year and he had a way of making music fun. 55 years later, she still remembered the impact of that one teacher that greeted her every day. Wow. That little act of kindness made a big difference.

Another neat story is worth sharing. Nancy played the French horn and there was a French horn solo written into one of our concert pieces. She said, “Mr. Root, I could never do that.” But he came up with a plan. “We’ll have Charles play along with you on his trombone,” so she agreed to do the solo. Each day in rehearsal Charles would play along during the solos, but the night of the concert, according to plan, Charles didn’t play and Nancy performed the solo on her own. You can imagine her feeling of accomplishment and the sense of pride that accompanied it. The scheme may have been just a little devious, but what a creative way to build a student’s confidence and self-esteem.

A few years ago, I was doing a four-part staff development series with a district. The fourth session entailed my meeting with various groups throughout the day, including a number of student organizations. In one discussion, I asked how things were going. They indicated that things had gotten a lot better in the last couple of years. When asked why, they responded, “We got a new superintendent, and he is out in the halls in the morning saying “Hi” to us.

Another group of students observed that things were better in the lunchroom. When asked why, they replied, “We got a new cook. She smiles at us.” Little things make a big difference, and students notice them.

Blanchard and Johnson made a mint a few years ago with The One Minute Manager, which simply instructed leaders to spend just a minute or two on a regular basis conversing individually with staff members. Just touching base periodically means a lot and it’s so uplifting for both of you. In our leadership training we label that MBWAManagement by Wandering Around. It’s not rocket science, but it’s powerful.

In one of our previous Leaders Forum visits we shared the good news and bad news for those who would like to be motivators. The bad news is this: “You cannot motivate others. Motivation is a door with the handle on the inside.” There is good news, however. “You can create a climate in which people will become self-motivated.” The culture and climate of any entity starts at the top and permeates the entire organization. That makes your attitude, your people skills, your tone of voice and all of the elements of “emotional intelligence” pretty important. As Hiam Ginott reminds us, “YOU are the decisive element. Your daily mood creates the climate. Your personal approach makes the weather.” The way you handle a crisis determines whether those around you will be humanized or de-humanized and motivated or de-motivated.

So, here’s our parting thought. You are in a tough business which many times leaves you feeling like you’re between a rock and a hard place. It is imperative that you make a concerted effort every day to keep yourself positive and growing. Take care of yourself both on and off the job. Do something every day to make you a better you. Maintaining a resourceful state, even when things aren’t going according to Hoyle, is essential to good leadership.

You have chosen an amazing profession with more opportunity than most to make a difference and to leave a legacy. Relish the good times, and when things aren’t going so well, reiterate the words of an old poem. “Bristle up, grit your teeth, and keep on keeping on.” This too will pass.

Our recurring theme has been simple – little things count. So, don’t ever under-estimate the power of “Hello” or the uplifting potential of a warm smile. And please, please, please remember; You do make a difference. 








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