A core attribute of being a values-based leader is the recognition that leadership has nothing to do with titles and organizational charts. Rather, it is about your ability to influence people by relating to them. Many people make this process very complicated. It is actually very simple…letting people know you truly CARE about them, that you APPRECIATE them, and THANKING them for everything they do. You realize that every person really matters, and you are no more important than anyone with whom you come in contact. This isn’t just lip service or feigned modesty, it is the way you live your life!

I ask my Kellogg students to write a one page self-reflection paper each week and focus on an aspect of values-based leadership. Here’s one I received last week from an Executive MBA student that I have read several times. It is a poignant illustration of this core attribute of values-based leadership:

“This I Believe”
A Kellogg Student’s “Reflection Paper”

It’s 2:45 am on a typical Monday morning. I wake up and get ready to head for the airport to catch my 5 am flight to Chicago. Upon arrival at the Parking Spot #2 location, I am picked up by the shuttle bus. I look at the front of the bus, where I see the driver’s name tag hanging up near the roofline of the bus. Hmmm, note to self: his name is David. As the bus stops at the terminal drop-off point and the driver is taking down my luggage, I tip him and say, “Thank you, David.”

I head to the ticket counter, notice the name tag of the American Airlines attendant by the ticket kiosk. Hmmm, note to self: her name is Jane. She asks me if I need any help; I tell her, “Thanks for asking, Jane. I think I’m all set.”

I head for the gate and after I’ve boarded the plane, I hear the flight attendant’s welcome – “Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Mandy and I’m your flight attendant. On behalf of the entire crew, welcome aboard.” Hmmm, note to self: her name is Mandy. When she serves my drink, I say “Thank you, Mandy.”

Once landed in Chicago, I head to work and as I approach the front office lobby, I greet the attendants with a hearty “Hello, Tavia and Kevin!” I hear back, “Good morning, Loan.”

Throughout my day at work, I am in meetings. Everyone I meet or encounter, I say their names at least once. “That’s a great idea, Karla.” “Hey, Jim, I heard you won that contract – Congrats!” “Doug, can you help me understand how we manufacture this product?”

After a long day, I’m about to leave the office. The cleaning person arrives. “Hi, Corina! Good to see you. Thanks for always making my office so pristine and in order. See you tomorrow!”

Each weekday is similar. Then it’s Friday… I head to Evanston for my EMBA classes. Upon arrival at the Allen Center, I greet the front desk personnel with a “Hello, Kenn and Ferron!” I head to the EMBA office area where I greet Elmer, Colette, Greg, Bridgette, Shannon, Connie, etc., by name. I head to the classroom and say “Hi” to all of the cohort colleagues by name:
“Hi, Tony!”
“Hey, Katarina!”
“Hello, Ravi.”
“Congrats, Raghu, on being engaged!”

Once class is done for the day, I head to Happy Hour and ask the bartender, “Hi, Miguel. Can you get me the usual diet Coke, no ice, in a wine glass?” Then I head to dinner and ask the stir-fry chef for the following order: “Hello, Martin. How’s my favorite chef? Please, all the vegetables except onions. No pasta, no sauce. Just stir-fry vegetables. Thanks, you’re the best!”

As you can see, I love to acknowledge people by addressing them with their names. People tell me, “Wow, you are really good with names.” No, I’m not good with names. I work hard at purposefully learning the names of those who touch my life in any aspect.

This I believe… that people really appreciate hearing their name. It creates an atmosphere of camaraderie, of belonging, of caring, etc. I believe, when people hear their name, they feel a connection with me; I want them to know that they matter to me and that I care to take the time to know their names.

This I believe… that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.