By Chuck Lauer
Simple things can be so important. I had lunch with the former chairman of a major healthcare supply firm and in the course of the conversation, we talked about all kinds of matters, including ethics, character and the characteristics of top leaders.
Sometimes my friend has comments and observations that, although seemingly simple, carry with them lessons that are at the heart of true and competent stewardship of any organization.
This time my friend got on the subject of someone's signature and how at one time in his career, he was told by an uncle that anytime he signed any kind of a paper, whether it be a purchase order, a legal document or even a letter, that he should be thoroughly familiar with the content of that document. As a matter of fact, the former chairman insisted that his uncle made it abundantly clear that it was his honor-bound duty as a company officer to be acquainted with the content of anything where he put his signature.
Sounds like old school thinking, doesn't it? But the more I thought about what my friend told me, the more I realized how important it is to any leader to know what he is signing.
Now from a practical standpoint, I'm not sure any leader can completely abide by the wish and obligation to know what is in every letter he signs. It would be almost impossible! But I do know one CEO of a major healthcare association that will not let any letter go out over his signature unless he knows exactly what he is signing.
We talked about it one day over lunch and he told me that when he first was made CEO of his organization, he hurriedly signed a letter that accompanied a check that was being sent to the widow of one of the organization's most treasured executives.
The problem was that the letter he signed referred to the deceased by the wrong first name and when he was informed about it, he was devastated and embarrassed by the error and swore that he would be totally familiar with the content of any letter he signed in the future. After all, he told me, the recipient of any communication from any person should always have the confidence that they are being treated with dignity and respect.
The other day I received a letter from a young lady I met on a plane returning from a conference in Florida. The letter was handwritten and it contained a simple note from that person telling me how much she enjoyed meeting me at a healthcare conference. I thought her note was a nice thing for her to do. I have always been a big advocate of personal notes handwritten to the recipient.
Since I've been a salesman most of my life I can attest to the fact that handwritten notes, tastefully done, can make a big impression on prospects and clients. It shows that you respect the person you are writing to. All of us, after all, want to be treated with respect no matter our generation.
Some people tell me the reason they don't write letters is because their handwriting is so bad. At least that's the excuse they use! However, no matter who you are if you want to make an impression on someone, practice your writing skills. It pays big dividends!
On another simple but practical matter, I always point out how important good manners are in dealing with others, either on a professional or personal basis. I've told the story before of hiring a sales manager some time ago with excellent recommendations. However, after only a short period, I had to terminate his services because of poor manners. I had hired this gentleman because he had been recommended to me by a client who told me he felt he would make a good fit for my organization. I checked the fellow out with a number of people and found him to have a seemingly good background. I even traveled with him to see my boss who gave me his blessing to hire him. So things were moving along smoothly.
However, within two months I received a call from one of my top sales people about the gentleman. She told me that at a dinner engagement with a client and his wife, the new sales manager seemed to lack manners. She described being at the restaurant where they were to meet the client and his wife. After being introduced, the sales manager simply sat down before the client and his wife were even seated, reached for the dinner rolls and starting eating.
My sales person was incensed by the sales manager's lack of manners. I finally got her settled down and said that I would speak with him. Unfortunately, incidents similar to this happened again and were reported by other sales people. Finally, I witnessed similar breaches of good manners myself at two conferences and spoke with the sales manager about his boorish behavior. He assured me he would be careful in the future but it just never happened!
I finally had to let him go and I felt badly having to do so. What he needed was a course from Emily Post on how to behave.
Sometimes all of us are in such a hurry to hire someone into our organization that we forget to really check on someone's social graces. A candidate might come with great recommendations and they might even display good manners in front of you, but then when they are on their own sometimes the good manners disappear. You have to somehow make sure that is not the case. Close supervision could be warranted initially to make sure!
So simple things can sometimes turn into very big things and it behooves all of us to check them out thoroughly. We all sign things that we really haven't checked out because we simply don't think we have time.
Then there are those of us who don't write personal notes to people because that might take too long, too.
Maybe the issues arise in regard to good manners. Possibly there are some who think behaving like ladies and gentlemen is a waste of time!
I suggest all of us take more time. Not only before signing any kind of document, but we need to spend time on things like always using good manners in dealing with others or on a gesture such as writing a handwritten letter.
Study after study shows that employees in the workplace who are treated well are more productive and show greater loyalty to their employer. But an even bigger pay off comes to those organizations that treat their customers well by displaying good manners. Now that really makes good business sense!