Achieving Business Success

By Robert L. Bailey

New dictionaries are bulging with the addition of newly coined words – some 10,000 new words and 100,000 changes in definitions over the past ten years. I'm reminded just how extensively our language is changing every time I try to communicate with a teenager.

At the same time, many old terms are dying due to lack of use. One such term is thank you . Another is please .

Not long ago I was working with a company on a special project. The employee team went beyond the call of duty to complete the project on time and under budget. They worked long hours and weekends, always with upbeat attitudes and a friendly spirit. The joy they experienced in successfully completing their mission was obvious. They were a part of a winning team, and they loved every minute of it.

"These folks deserve special thanks," I commented to the CEO. "That's what they're getting paid for," he grunted.

Yes, they were getting paid – and paid well. But no manager has the right to treat employees rudely or fail to express thanks and appreciation for a job well done. In fact, failure to say thank you and to give appropriate recognition will likely bring about a diminished commitment to success on their next assignment.

On several occasions flight attendants have commented to me that I'm an unusually courteous passenger. Who – me? I try to think back at what I might have done to give the impression of being especially kind or well mannered, and the only thing I can come up with is that I said thank you for the coffee, thank you for the refill, and thank you for picking up the empty cup. Since then I've noted that many passengers say nothing when they are served by flight attendants – as if, "I paid for the ticket. You have an obligation to serve me. That's what you're getting paid for. So why should I have to say thank you?"

Whatever happened to common courtesy? Several national surveys indicate that rudeness on the part of the American people is rampant and worsening. And I'm convinced that rudeness in the workplace is worsening too.

I observe managers, including senior level officers, who do not express appreciation for especially good performance; who give work instructions with a "you'd better do this or else" tone; who do not smile and speak to employees when they meet in the hallway. In one company it was "company policy" not to speak to anyone who was on a lower level than you are. The performance of this company had been very poor for a number of years, and I note that performance continues to be poor. I will go so far as to say that this company will not survive over the long pull.

It shouldn't be a surprise that surveys show that some 72% of workers do not like their jobs and/or their bosses. As a result, turnover in many companies is high. Some 50% of workers say they are actively seeking a different job now or would take one if an opportunity arises. "Workers don't leave companies, they leave their bosses," one reader e-mailed. Therefore, it seems to me that if we are to solve the problem of worker discontent, and the problem of excessive employee turnover, we must start with the leader.

Respect and common courtesy provide the foundation for effective leadership. It has been proven time and again that employees do not give their best when they're treated poorly. Since so much depends on a capable, stable, happy, high morale work force to make any venture successful, why do so many leaders treat employees badly? I believe it's primarily a lack of training and a lack of understanding of what leadership involves.

There are many dimensions of truly great leadership, but here's a place to start:

  • Smile and speak to employees. Call them by name.
  • Show genuine concern for your people and their families. Let them know you want the best for them.
  • Never talk down to your people. Respect them as equals.
  • Recognize that those on the firing line know more about your customers than anyone and in most cases know more about your competitors than anyone. Build great relationships so you can tap this vital resource that can make your company more successful.
  • Never take advantage of extravagant perks, especially during periods of layoffs or other cost-cutting initiatives. Follow the same rules as everyone else, and always set a positive example.
  • Always remain open to suggestions, and build an environment in which communication upward and downward is encouraged.
  • Always express thanks and appreciation for outstanding performance.

This is simple stuff – well within the grasp of anyone who is in a leadership role. These simple basics of leadership will pay unbelievably large dividends in any company, bringing about improved employee morale and commitment, overwhelming customer service, and superior company performance.

Robert L. Bailey is the retired CEO of a major company. Visit or contact him at 919-629-6226 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..