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Leading with small, everyday gestures

4 min read


You have worked hard to get to where you are and can rattle off significant times in your career that gave you great satisfaction. Perhaps you experienced a big promotion, dinner with the CEO or heading up a large successful initiative. Spend a moment thinking about one of those, and you will likely feel a wash of warm pleasure.

Congratulations. You know what makes you happy. Or do you?

Recent studies have shown that we significantly undervalue the more ordinary or mundane events in our lives. These events can also produce happiness even if they seem insignificant when they occur. We may not notice them since they are a part of our everyday experience.

Why do happiness and joy matter to your leadership? Happy leaders tend to be more productive at work, make better decisions, express more creativity and have better social interactions (among many other benefits). I think you can see how all of these things would impact your ability to be the best you can be at your craft.

So think back on events that might appear mundane and consider what you feel as you think about those. All of us have experienced at least one of these seemingly insignificant interactions in the recent (or even distant) past:

  • A recent interaction with someone — even a stranger — that just felt good.
  • A time when you felt really listened to.
  • A time when someone helped you with something with no expectation of any reciprocation.

If you can become happier, the impact you make will be significant. But if you can also purposefully work to create everyday leadership moments for those around you at work, you can double the impact you make.

What if your own everyday interactions with the people who support the work of your organization included:

Kindness: Deliberately focus on what others need. It’s often very simple: a kind word, delegation of a new and challenging project to work on or an understanding of tough times others are going through. Give them the kind words they need or the day off to help them cope. Look for moments when those around you do well and let them know that you noticed.

Respect: Show respect to others every day and in every way you can. Simply focusing and listening to someone (even when you don’t want to or don’t have the time) is a way of showing respect. Watch the judgments, assumptions and sarcasm that may be sitting on the tip of your tongue and replace them with encouragement. Treat others with civility, particularly when stress is high.

Service: How might you be able to help those who support your organizational mission? Take time to notice when someone needs assistance and ask how you might help. Coach others because it’s an effective way to help them without getting caught in the trap of doing their work for them. Remain alert to how you can be of service in even the smallest of ways.

The same small and often mundane gestures that create moments of happiness or joy in your life will do the same for those around you. Improved productivity, better decisions, increased creativity and healthier relationships can occur as a result of your attention to others and small gestures. Isn’t that a place you’d want to work in? You can, beginning with how you treat others.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages Fortune 500 corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.

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