Set the Tone for the New Year

“No one person is indispensable, but all people are important.”
William Dale Crist, business advisor


Set the ToneA 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 his 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 his group? A tone of clarity or confusion?

And an IT manager told her department, “As of tomorrow, employees will not be able to access the building without using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday and employees will receive their cards in two weeks.” And once again, what kind of tone was that IT manager communicating to her department? A tone of understanding or misunderstanding?

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

I hope so, because the tone set by the boss (or even the parent at home) may have a bigger impact on the outcomes of that day than almost anything else the boss does. That’s why I wrote about “The Process of Connective Communication” and “The Process of Compassionate Listening” in my brand new book, “The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want Out of Life and Work.”

So what can you do to set the RIGHT TONE at work or at home? Here are a few tips for starters.


1. Go out of your way to show caring.


It does wonders in bringing about the payoffs 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.

William Wells Brown, an African-American abolitionist said, “People don’t follow titles; they follow courage.” And I would add, they also follow caring. You’ve got to set a tone of caring if you want over-the-top results.


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.”

And I would add, “Praise does wonder for the sense of hearing.” Not only will the other person tend to hear and remember your praise, but he will be motivated to give his very best.

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

  • Make your employees or your colleagues a part of your weekly “to do” list. Add their names to your “to do” list of goals to accomplish and then cross off the names as you praise them.
  • 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 they day, take a minute to write thank-you notes to anyone who made a difference that day.

Some of these techniques might sound a little corny, but so what! They work.

After delivering my program on “The Leadership Payoff” at Country Insurance and Financial Services, Scott Stanich, an agency manager, said, This program gave us very useful, practical information. If this doesn’t make you better at home and work, you aren’t paying attention. And Brad Anderson, another agency manager from the same company, 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.

Finally, for today’s “Tuesday Tip,” to set the right tone,


3. Lead by example.


Albert Schweitzer, one of the most prominent physicians and missionaries of the 20th century, noted, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

One of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin knew about that. He wanted the city of Philadelphia to install street lighting, but he also knew the city fathers would balk at the expense. So he led them to new way of thinking and acting by using the power of his own example.

Franklin hung a beautiful lantern on a long bracket in front of his own house. People picking their way along the streets at night would come out of the dark into the well-lit area in front of Franklin’s house and think, “What a great idea.”

Soon Franklin’s neighbors began placing lanterns in front of their homes. Before long the entire city awoke to the value of street lighting. Franklin had achieved what he wanted through example without a word being spoken.

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



List three ways you could go out of your way to show caring. And then select one to do this week.