Control Your Tone to Ensure Awesome Results at Work

A short time ago, a plant manager told his workforce, “Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule.” I wonder what kind of tone that plant manager was establishing in his organization. A tone of competence or incompetence?

An advertising director told her team, “This project is so important that we can’t let things that are more important interfere with it.” What kind of tone was that advertising director setting for her group? A tone of clarity or confusion?

As I speak to Fortune 500 companies, small and medium-sized businesses, government, healthcare, education, and professional associations, as well as coach numerous executives, I remind them that they set the tone as they walk into their workplaces each day. And I ask them, “Are you ready to set the tone as you walk through the door?”

I hope so, because the tone set by the boss … and everyone else in the workplace … has a bigger impact on the outcomes of that day than almost anything else. So what can you do to set the RIGHT TONE? Here are two tips from my program on 4C Leadership: Communication, Cooperation, Change, and Commitment.

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► 1. Go out of your way to show caring.

It does wonders in bringing about the results you want and need.

One CEO learned that accidentally. He was the CEO of a trucking firm, but he was worried by the company’s financial picture and his somewhat uncooperative employees. A friend advised him to get a closer look at his employees.

So the CEO came in early one morning to chat with his crew. His first few attempts at conversation were awkward and brief. He was about to go up to his office when he noticed one driver sitting by himself, looking upset. The CEO asked him what the problem was.

“It’s my mom,” the driver said. “She’s in the hospital and there’s no one else to take care of her.”

The CEO told him to go see his mother and not worry. The grateful driver left and then the CEO realized that someone would have to cover his deliveries that day. It had been years since the CEO had driven a truck route, but he managed to load up the truck and do the job. Later that day, the CEO went to the hospital with flowers to visit the driver and his mother.

This routine went on for several days, the CEO making deliveries and then visiting the hospital, while the rest of the employees noticed. News of the CEO’s concern for an employee traveled quickly. So when the time came for the drivers to vote on joining a union, they rejected it because they knew they had a leader who really cared about them.

One of the best examples of going out of your way to show caring comes from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the last month. When the American government offered to get him out of the conflict, Zelenskyy replied, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” He immediately declined the offer to stay and fight with the people of his country. That’s caring.

To Russian President Putin, Zelensky said, “When you attack us, you will see our faces. Not our backs, but our faces.” It’s that kind of caring that has given the Ukrainian resistance more courage and staying power than anyone expected.

► 2. Praise often.

William Arthur Ward, the inspirational author, noted, “Feeling thankful and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” In other words, thinking about how well your employees, teammates, colleagues, and kids are performing is almost worthless if you don’t say something about it. And feeling good about someone’s performance without telling the other person your feelings is just as worthless.

Of course, some of you are thinking if you praise someone too much, they’ll get a big head. They’ll become arrogant or get conceited. But I like the way playwright G. B. Shaw responded to that kind of thinking. He wisely remarked, “To withhold deserved praise lest it should make its object conceited is as dishonest as to withhold payment of a debt less your creditor should spend the money badly.”

To create a tone of enthusiastic engagement, praise often. Indeed, management author Michael Le Boeuf says the greatest management principle in the world is: “What gets rewarded gets done. What gets recognized gets repeated.”

A few ways that I’ve learned to make praise a part of my daily routine include the following:

*Put your employees or your colleagues on your weekly To-Do List and cross off the names as you praise them at least once each week.

* Use voice mail to leave messages of praise for a job well done. You can even do this from your mobile phone on the way home.

* At the beginning of the day, put five coins in your pocket. Then, during the day, each time you praise someone, transfer a coin to your other pocket. It will hold you accountable and make praise a part of your daily routine.

* Write praise notes at the end of the day. Keep a stack of note cards on your desk, where you can’t ignore them. At the end of the day, take a minute to write thank-you notes to anyone who made a difference that day.

After teaching these and other strategies at Country Insurance and Financial Services, Scott Stanich, an agency manager, said, “Your program gave us so many very powerful and practical techniques. If this doesn’t make you better at home and work, you aren’t paying attention.” And Brad Anderson, another agency manager, said, “I learned so many strategies here … in just one day … and I was able to go back to my work and apply them instantly.”

Setting the right tone at work really works. So ask yourself, “What tone are you setting?”