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Defying Gravity with the Little Things

Written by Rebecca Okamoto on Oct. 28, 2013

Early in my career, I learned to defy gravity and achieve remarkable results with the help of my mentor, Bernie O’Keefe. He taught me to set high goals and expect the best out of myself and others. (See Teach Your Organization to Exceed )

Bernie also taught me that defying gravity was about the little things.

My first management promotion was to the safety manager role at a 600+ person site. Bernie was the Plant Manager. During my assignment we reduced the site injury rate by over 50% and sustained it for over 3 years. We also reduced health care costs, going from the most expensive out of 7 plants to becoming the 3rd most cost effective, while improving many benefits. Our results were recognized as Company benchmarks.

However, it wasn’t the results or corporate recognition that motivated me. It was the smallest of gestures that made the biggest difference to me. Gestures that made me feel my work mattered, and what I did was meaningful. These seemingly small acts boosted my confidence, increased my motivation and helped me learn to strive for bigger and greater goals.

There are three things Bernie did that stand out in my mind. First he told me that he would respond within 24 hours to my emails and questions. And he did. Secondly, after results were published, or after an executive tour, Bernie would send out the reports with personal comments and encouragement, and copy my boss and her peers.

Lastly, at the end of his tenure, Bernie called me into his office and handed me copies of my results with his handwritten notes on them. He told me he had saved them because he wanted me to reflect on how extraordinary my results were.

It was a jaw dropping feeling realizing that someone saved my results, results that I had not bothered to capture, to present to me as a gesture of recognition. I still have some of those notes today, 20 years later.

Remember the little things: encouragement, recognition, appreciation, responsiveness. The little things are the human things. You don't have to be the most inspiring speaker to be the most inspiring mentor, boss, colleague.

Do you want to teach someone to fly, or to fly higher and longer? You can start today with an act of genuine appreciation.

PS - Here is a TED Talk by Dan Ariely, "What makes us feel good about work"? In this talk Mr. Arierly describes various studies about what makes work meaningful. The smallest human gestures of acknowledgement made a significant difference in a variety of tasks.

What motivates us to work? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn't just money. But it's not exactly joy either. It seems that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely presents two eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work. (Filmed at TEDxRiodelaPlata.)

It's become increasingly obvious that the dismal science of economics is not as firmly grounded in actual behavior as was once supposed. In "Predictably Irrational," Dan Ariely tells us why.

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