I was recently at a conference and I heard a gentleman by the name of Skip Pritchard, who is the former CEO of Ingram sparks. However, he’s now the CEO of a company that owns the Dewey Decimal System (isn’t that cool?). He is a brilliant leader and phenomenal businessman.
I heard a lot of great speakers at this four-day conference. But Skip Prichard’s session was my favorite and the one that I remember the most because of the story he told.
See, we don’t remember data. In fact, most of us cannot recite (off the top of our head) our critical numbers and/or other important statistical information. However, we can all recite stories that we’ve heard because stories paint a vivid picture in our minds. We think in images, not words. And best of all, stories help us to understand how to better relate to our people. They also help our people learn how to better relate to us.
Skip shared a story that was so powerful that it made me cry. It was that beautiful, that memorable. So, go grab a box of tissues because you’ll probably cry too.
The story he related was about a particular year that the Olympics were hosted in America, and more specifically about one particular Olympic Torch Bearer.
Side Note: You may know this little fact, but then again, maybe you don’t. In years past, Coca- Cola sponsored the Olympic Torch Relay. The Olympic Flame was flown from Athens Greece to Atlanta Georgia—Coco-Cola’s headquarters. From that starting point, the flame was carried by torch runners from Atlanta, George, across America and eventually run straight into Olympic stadium where it was lit for all the world to see. It’s quite spectacular to say the say the least.
Anyway, in this particular year the flame was to be carried through Houston, Texas and at the last moment, a torch runner had to opt out and a replacement runner had to be secured immediately.
As destiny would have it, an Elementary School was located smack dab in the middle of the route that desperately needed a replacement runner. So, the Olympic Torch Runner Team approached the leadership of the Elementary School and shared with them that they wanted to select someone from the school to bear the torch and carry the flame through their neighborhood.
The school leadership team immediately suggested that the honor should be given to the school principal because he was an outstanding leader and highly deserving of such an auspicious honor. They threw out a few more names of other great leader just in case a backup may be needed.
But the Olympic team said, ‘Nope, that’s not what we want to feature—not WHO we want to feature, ‘We want you to give us your most challenged student. We want that at-risk student, that student that struggles with school-life. Who’s that student? We want to make a difference in that person’s life.”
The entire elementary team looked at each other and all said in unison, ‘Billy. It’s Billy.’
So, they met with Billy’s mother and shared with her that they would love for Billy to be the replacement runner of the Olympic Flame. Then they met with Billy to explain what a big deal it was to be selected to carry the flame and more importantly that they wanted Billy to be their Olympic Torch Bearer and run the flame through his neighborhood.
Because it was short notice, only Billy, his mother, and the school leaders knew that Billy would be running the flame when the whole community to turned up to watch the Olympic Flame pass through their area.
TVs were set up across the school so that all the children and teachers could watch the flame as it passed through their community. As the footage began to roll, it focused in on a little yellow school bus pulling up in front of their school—and low and behold the bus doors open and out steps Billy!
A murmur starts across the classrooms. People were like, ‘Billy? That’s Billy! Did Billy just highjack our video? That’s Billy!’
The footage continues to roll and to the amazement of all, Billy is warmly greeted by the Olympic torch bearer team and handed the torch. He triumphantly raises the torch and runs the flame through the streets of his neighborhood. It isn’t’ long before the entire school is wildly cheering… Billy, Billy, Billy!
So, who was Billy? Billy was that kid that never succeeded. That kid that ate alone in the lunchroom. That kid that never had friends. But suddenly everyone was cheering for Billy. Everyone wanted to talk with him, to sit by him, to hear about what it was like to run with the Olympic flame held high above his head. Billy was friendless no more.
When the run was over the Elementary leadership team shared with the Olympic torch bearer team, “Billy, that kid who never had friends, is now never without friends. He never eats alone in the lunchroom. You cannot imagine what this has done for us, because this didn’t just change Billy; it changed our whole community.”
At this point in the story, Skip paused to make the point, ‘As leaders, we often miss THE POWER OF RECOGNITION. It’s a card we seldom play; a card we don’t play enough.’
He somberly added, ‘The power of recognition has the possibility of changing a life forever. Billy was forever changed as he carried that flame and heard his team and his school cheering Billy! Billy! Billy!
When Billy walks into the lunchroom, people want to sit next to him.’ Then Skip passionately said, ‘This is the power of recognition in the lives of others!”
Wouldn’t you agree—we need to do a whole lot more of recognizing our people?
Sitting in that conference, listening to Skip speak about the power of recognition, I thought about a moment I shared with Sarah—a former stylist of mine on the anniversary of her first year-end review. She had had a wonderful year. She had done really well. Truth of the matter, I would have loved to have cloned her a million times over.
At the end of her first year-end review, Sarah, opened her wallet and pulled out a well-worn piece of paper. She unfolded it and placed it on my desk. She looked me in the eyes and said, “A year ago, on this piece of paper you wrote, ‘You are a super star’. I have carried this piece of paper in my wallet for one year. Sometimes I would have to pull it out and remind myself that I was a superstar. Because you believed in me, I am a super star today.” And she certainly was!
That is the power of recognition. My advice to you is to meet with your team one on one. Begin every meeting with a celebration. Applaud the things they’re doing right. Call out the good. Search for it, seek for it, find it. Start there and just watch and see if the power of recognition doesn’t change your entire team and the way you interact with one another.
Who are the “Billy’s” in your organization? Who are your low flyers? Find your Billy’s and look for ways to creatively instill the power of recognition into their lives.