She started her own business late in life and turned it into a multi-million dollar enterprise. She donated millions to worthy causes. She was once named the most outstanding business woman of the 20th century. Much of her success was the direct result of good old fashioned hard work and determination.
But another key to her rise was the way she interacted with the people around her, and that interaction boils down to a single, simple idea: Make people feel important. Today we’ll take a closer look at who this successful leader and business woman was, and how we can apply her idea to become more effective leaders ourselves.
A Remarkable Leader
She was 45-years old. She was a mother. She had quit her job. Her husband had just died of a heart attack.
Does that sound like the best timing to launch your own business?
That’s exactly what Mary Kay Ash did. It’s one of the many things that make her such a remarkable person and leader.
For years she had a successful career as a saleswoman for a home care products company. Yet she suffered bitter disappointment as she watched a man she had trained get promoted ahead of her.
In protest, she quit, and ultimately decided to start a business of her own. As she and her husband were about to launch Mary Kay Cosmetics, he died suddenly of a heart attack. Still, she found the courage to continue, and with a $5,000 investment she launched Mary Kay Cosmetics in 1963.
Fast forward 38 years. At the time of her death in 2001 Mary Kay Cosmetics had over 800,000 representatives in 37 countries and annual sales totaling over $200 million.
If the measure of leadership is the legacy you leave and the success of those who come after, then this is also pretty impressive: in 2014 the company counted over three million consultants world wide with a wholesale volume exceeding three billion dollars.
Beyond that, she founded The Mary Kay Ash Foundation with a mission to eliminate cancer and end domestic violence. Since 1996 the foundation has awarded $27 million in grants for cancer research and $47 million in grants to women’s shelters across the United States.
That’s a leadership legacy anyone can be proud of. So what can we learn from her?
A Simple but Powerful Idea
I can remember the first time I ever heard of Mary Kay was long ago when I saw a pink Cadillac drive by. She gave these distincitive cars out to her top sales representatives each year – a great incentive and advertising idea in itself.
But it was a quote I came across the other day that got my attention that I think says a lot about her leadership philosophy and her ability to succeed in business. It goes like this:
She even goes on to say that if she were to teach a first year management course, she would have every student wear a “Make me feel important” sign
I love this idea because it helps change the focus of our thinking from ourselves, where it typically lies, to other people.
So often we can get caught up in the details of the thing we are doing – the logistics, the timing, our own efforts, that we can lose sight of the bigger, more important leadership picture: our relationships with the other people on our team.
We all want to be noticed, appreciated, and respected. We want to believe that what we are doing matters. We want to believe that we matter. And this quote is a great way of reminding us that if that is true of us, it is also true of the people around us.
If leadership is getting things done through people, then everything depends on the relationships you have with those around you. Make them feel important and you reinforce their self-esteem and that vital need to belong. The more you help fill this need the better teammates they are likely to become. With that in mind, here are 14 ways to make people feel important.
14 Ways to Make People Feel Important
Listen to them. When they are talking to you, really listen. Make eye contact, close your mouth, and focus on the words they are saying, not on what you want to say the moment they stop talking. Take the time to really listen to them.
Show your admiration. When we tell someone we admire something about them, it signals that we value who they are and the choices they have made, which tends to make people feel good.
Be appreciative. Something else Mary Kay said was, “Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone, don’t keep it a secret.”
Notice things. Make a note of something that they did well recently and point it out to them; explain why you think it’s great. Compliment them on something they are wearing or doing; it’s surprising the things we can see when we open our eyes.
Use their name. As Dale Carnegie will tell you, people really love to hear the sound of their own name, so say it out loud, personalize your conversation with it, and connect it with something good that they have done.
Connect on a deeper level. Invest the time to get beyond the superficial and learn about the person – ask about their families, favorite hobbies, and what gets them excited outside the work environment.
Follow up. Whether it’s a question they had, a big event in their lives, or something they needed help with, follow up with them. When we make the effort to get back to them with answers, or simply to find out how their big fishing weekend went, it tells them they are important to us.
See the potential. If you see promise in their abilities, mention it to them, then help them find a path to develop their potential; suggest books to read, courses to take, and experiences that could help them grow.
Ask them to teach you. Find something they are good at and ask them to show you how they do it. This honors their accomplishments, while making you smarter at the same time. In fact, this is a good way for a new leader to quickly build credibility and expertise.
Give them the credit. When they are right about something, acknowledge it publicly.
Trust them with the truth. Respect them enough to be honest with them; tell them that’s what you are doing.
Value their time. Show up on time for meetings, come prepared, and stay focused.
Align them with the mission. There should be a clear linkage between what each person on your team does, and how the mission gets accomplished. Talk with them about how their actions are critical to advancing the team. If you find this difficult, it might be time to review roles and responsibilities.
And vitally, there’s this:
Be honest. Only say it if it’s true and if you mean it. People can sense insincerity from a mile away, so don’t insult them with platitudes and meaningless words.
Making People Feel Important – The Takeaway
May Kay Ash says she envisions an invisible sign around every one’s neck to remind us how to act. I like the idea behind what she says, because it helps us put the focus in the right place: our relationships with others.
But as much as I like the quote, I think the execution of that idea isn’t quite right. The responsibility is in the wrong place.
It’s not up to everybody else to go find a sign to wear so that we’ll remember how to act. The responsibility of how to act falls to us.
So instead of hanging an imaginary sign on everyone else, maybe we should just change the way we look at them in the first place.
Maybe a new pair of glasses with those words etched inside might be a better idea.
So here’s the challenge: Look around you, and ask yourself this question – Who on your team needs to hear from you? What can you do to make them feel important?
Why not do it right now?
Cadillac Photo credit: That Hartford Guy from Hartford, Connecticut, USA (Mary Kay Cadillacs 50th anniversary 2013) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons