Leading the Way: Don’t forget the personal touch

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Published: September 15 2013 | 5:30 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 8:28 pm in
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Many years ago, I made the acquaintance of T.J. Schmitz, executive director for an international fraternal organization with several thousand members and alums.

He claimed to have a huge and positive effect on people with one simple action, yet it wasn’t until recently that I’ve come to appreciate and embrace a practice he did with regularity.

T.J. had a selection of personal and professional stationery he used to write and mail at least one handwritten note every day. And I imagine he owned a nice pen dedicated for just this purpose.

To make my point, let me ask, when was the last time you received a handwritten note of thanks, congratulations or on job well done? I bet you can remember who sent it and why.

And if you can’t remember the last time you received such a note then that should tell you something.

I won’t get much of an argument when I suggest that technology has usurped a degree of personal touch from our business dealings. The initial culprits were telephones, but today’s disruptive technology includes email, text messaging and social media

A few months ago I started writing and mailing personal notes to people with whom I’ve interacted. The response has been ... well ... noteworthy. I’ve received many thank-you messages and compliments (via email, of course).

And despite my scrawling penmanship, the authenticity, sincerity and effort got their attention and made a positive impression. It was simple, effective and only took a few minutes.

Technology can get the job done, but a handwritten note makes an impact. By extension, the personal touch can be deployed with face-to-face interactions.

I remember a United Airlines commercial in which a company president lamented about losing touch with customers. When asked what he was going to do, he proceeded to hand out airline tickets to each of his sales staff and said they were to meet with each customer face-to-face.

Imagine that — no email, faxes or conference calls. Just a simple, personal visit.

The implication was clear that face-to-face interactions can sometimes be more effective than technologically enabled communication.

This works internally as well. Management by walking around is not a new concept, but sometimes seems like a lost art in this age of technically enabled speed and efficiency.

I view the overuse of technology to deliver good news as a lost opportunity. And hiding behind email (or any technology) to deliver bad news is a cop out.

One of my colleagues in Leadership Iowa set a goal to personally visit with each and every person — 30 participants — attending our monthly two-day meetings. Mission accomplished.

This person remains one of the most respected and admired leaders in our “class.” Coincidence? I think not.

Here are two things you can do, beginning today, to make a difference:

1 Don’t hide behind technology. Take a time each week to move away from the computer, and handwrite a few purposeful notes, then drop them in the mail and see what happens.

2 Make it a weekly goal to walk around to briefly visit with colleagues and employees about how things are going, or how they perceive things are going.

Done with sincerity, the personal touch of a handwritten note or face-to-face interaction will resonate with your intended audience and earn appreciation from others.

These more traditional old tricks should not be forgotten by old dogs, and not overlooked by emerging leaders.

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