Why the Extra Touch is So Important

Small, unnecessary gestures of kindness or cruelty tend to define our careers.

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Career reminiscences are often filled with accounts of small acts of kindness, cruelty, and indifference. The really big moments—a promotion here and a termination there—will glitter or scorch depending upon seemingly minor gestures.

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Whether the conduct was good, bad or indifferent, the common factor is that the person—who acted well or poorly—did not have to do so. We may recall the senior colleague who put in a word for us when we were up for promotion, or who took the time to explain the arcane nature of the organization. He or she didn’t have to do that. The discretionary aspect is what makes that extra effort all the more commendable.

Likewise, we can recall the gratuitous insult, the twisting of the knife, that was far from necessary and which left a scar much larger than the setback itself.

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The moments of indifference—the times when someone could and should have acted to prevent or correct a wrong—are harder to address because we seldom know what was going on in the other person’s life. The indifference could have happened because attention was diverted to a personal crisis or challenge. (As was once said, if you think others have lives of unbridled happiness it’s because you don’t know them very well.)

So where does that leave us as individuals and organizations? We need to avoid the unduly negative, make sure that we are fulfilling our basic responsibilities, and then, to add a touch of poetry to our work, do something more. “And then some” is the silent motto of extraordinary performers. They don’t seek just to get by. They go beyond minimal requirements. 

Here's an example: Two administrative aides coordinated an executive’s appearances at the monthly meetings of various community groups.

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One aide provided the time, location, and group name.

The other aide provided that information plus a briefing sheet on the contact person; the group’s recent programs; the group’s membership profile; whether or not the executive knew any of the group’s officers; what the group’s goals and concerns were for the coming year; what the group hoped to hear from the executive; and the nature of the room layout.

Which aide do you think made a better impression?

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.