In a small Tennessee town is a road with several signs that read “In honor of ______ veterans.” Each sign designates a different branch of the US Armed Services. The implication is that from one sign to the next, the roadway past the sign is dedicated in honor of veterans who served in that particular branch of the service. The idea is commendable, honorable even – if the road conditions matched the perceived honor the signs intended to convey. Instead, the road is bumpy, part of it follows a sharp curve, trees are low hanging over the roadway, and the aesthetic of the road and surrounding area leaves something less than honorable in the minds of those driving by.
When was the last time you were ‘awarded’ an honor or some platitude and the benefit of the acclamation matched the hype of the presentation? Organizations, leaders, and well-meaning managers grant employee of the month, VIP, and other honors on their employees, and we all agree that recognizing performance is important.
BUT – what are we doing to truly honor people?
Texas Roadhouse employees wear shirts that read “Serving Those Who Served Our Nation” – Go to a Texas Roadhouse and you’ll see parking spots by the front door reserved for veterans
Ritz Carlton claims to empower their employees to provide excellent customer service – Employees at Ritz Carlton have the ability to provide incentives and gifts to guests to ensure their satisfaction.
Starbucks employees are told that they don’t sell coffee, they sell an experience – Starbucks employees have certain discretions they can take to guarantee a great experience is provided to the customer.
These examples demonstrate that what we really do to honor people is follow up our words with actions to match.
Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner provide the acronym DWYSYWD, which is the best advice anyone can follow. What does it mean? DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU WILL DO.
If you’re in charge of roadways in Tennessee, and you post a sign to honor veterans across a particular part of the road, then keep the road nicely paved and clean. If you tell your staff you are empowering them to make decisions on the front line, then give them the authority to do as much. If you want your followers to be the next generation of leaders, then give them the freedom to make decisions and act on those decisions. They will succeed and they will fail, and in all of it, they will learn.
Be for them the leader you want to follow.