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Your Move — Make Employees 'Famous'

“Your Move — Make Employees ‘Famous'”

They really are listening to you; make the most of it

An editor once justified a heavy rewrite of my best prose by shouting at me across a busy newspaper city room — "Pemberton, I’m going to make you famous!" And then he laughed.

Sounds good, right? Except that everyone knew what he meant and what he had said to other reporters: "You better learn how to write, or you’re history!"

This time, though, he took a different tack. His words made an important point about my writing — and inspired me to do better. They were the right words at the right time.

Words do matter. What you say and write as the leader of your company matters. Not only that, but the way you say and write those words matters.

But it’s not simple. Everything about the way that editor talked to me would be wrong by today’s communications standards.

He was vague, not specific. He sent a mixed message by treating a serious matter as a joke. He did it in public, not in private. And the guy yelled at me.

Yet for me, it worked. I buckled down, my writing got better, and I kept my job. What would work for your employees?

You may be thinking, "I wouldn’t know how to figure out what to say. Besides, I don’t think my employees listen to me all that much anyway."

Think again. Now there’s new evidence that your employees are listening to you and so is anybody else within earshot. Not data, exactly, but evidence nonetheless.

A new book demonstrates how simple words have changed the lives of famous people in ways that helped them to achieve greatness. (Marlo Thomas, "The Right Words at the Right Time," ATRIA Books. Royalties go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital).

Here are examples from two overachievers you wouldn’t think could be influenced by anything, let alone mere words.

Independent thinker and idea generator Ted Turner confides that he needed permission to "think for yourself." He credits that simple, even trite, message he took to heart in a college classics literature class for unleashing his well-known brand of entrepreneurship. For him, those words were a revelation.

Told in school that he "ain’t never gonna be nuthin’," boxer Muhammad Ali went on to win Olympic gold. Afterward, he made a point of seeking out and declaring to the teacher who inadvertently inspired him: "I am the greatest in the world!"

Your words do matter. You have the responsibility to use them to make your employees "famous." And along the way, your employees might return the favor by making your company famous, too.

Writer: Scott Pemberton is the publisher of Edward Lowe PeerSpectives Report. Tell him about your moves at scott@lowe.org.