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Un-Common Courtesy

November 25, 2009

At the conclusion of a famous battle, a military commander once said of his troops, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue amongst these men.” Listening to the complaints of many of todays’ employees, it might be said that common courtesy is an uncommon virtue amongst todays’ bosses.

When talking to outsiders, employees use a wide variety of adjectives to describe their bosses: knowledgeable, hard driving, competent, aggressive, “going to be successful”. While these adjectives appear to used in a positive sense, experience tells me that they are often euphemisms for “that SOB.”

There’s one adjective that leaves no ambiguity. That adjective is nice. When someone says, “Mr. or Mrs. Such-in-Such is a “nice boss; I enjoy working for ’em”, you know that they mean it. You know that they like working for the man and that there is a good boss-employee relationship in place.

Scratch a little bit below the surface of a boss who’s employees say is “nice”. What makes for a nice boss. The underlying quality is often courtesy. Show me important people, powerful bosses who are courteous to those who work for them, and you’ll a healthy relationship between the boss and the employee.

I glanced through the indexes of several “how to be a good manager” books didn’t find any topics that touched on courteous. But ask enough employees, they’ll tell you that what separates the best from the rest is common courtesy, respect for the person, their ideas, and their job. Perhaps what makes common courtesy so special is that its altogether too uncommon.

That doesn’t mean that if you’re nice and your courteous and respectful to those who work for you, you can disregard all the other attributes of being a good manager, the planning, the execution, the control? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. But it does mean that if your employees bestow all those other laudatory adjectives on you and you aren’t courteous and respectful of others, all of your efforts will be for naught.

What makes common courtesy such an important quality for a good manager. Perhaps it’s much like common sense. The reason why it’s such a virtue, it’s just that it’s not all that common.

It’s easy to point fingers and, in a fast-paced, high pressure lives that we all live from time to time, we probably all drop our guards and aren’t quite as courteous and respectful of others as we should be from time to time. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be continually vigilant, particularly those who do have significant managerial responsibilities and control over others.

Sometimes aspiring managers are so busy trying to do something special or to be something special, they forget common courtesy. Despite our many accomplishments in life, we will ultimately be defined by how we treat others. If you truly want to be somebody special, make an effort to treat others as though they are special and you will become the somebody that you want to become.

Sometimes people think because of their power or importance that they’re better than those they work with or that they work for, hiding behind a position of power

A business owner recently shared with me the story of his discourteous treatment by an arrogant young bank executive. The business owner was seated in the bank lobby awaiting a meeting with the vice president. The two men had met before, but the banking relationship had since gone sour as the business fell on hard times.

As the bank vice president walked down the corridor through the waiting area, the businessman stood up and began a cordial greeting. The young bank vice president walked right be, ignoring him and entered his office. Several moments later, the banker’s secretary came out and relayed a message to the businessman.

It was clear to all who had seen this discourteous act that, while the banker may have thought of himself as powerful, he had belittled himself in everyone eyes who had seen his overt discourtesy. Truly powerful people are not discourteous people. Discourtesy is a sign of weakness and insecurity, its not a privilege associated with position.

I had another story relayed to me. Two members were sitting in the lounge of a men’s club watching a television program. A third member walked in and, without so much as speaking to anyone, changed the channel to a different program. The two television watchers were amazed at the gall of the third member, but weren’t interested enough at what they were watching to make a fuss over it. They just got up and left. As they departed, they commented to one another, “How would you like to work for that SOB? He just thinks he’s better than everybody else.”

The fact of the matter is none of us is better than any of the rest of us. We may have different responsibilities than others, some greater, some lesser. At any one time and in any one area, we may have accomplished more or more to show for our efforts than others. But on a different rating system at the very same moment we may end up on the short end of the score. Because we are all the same in the long run, it’s why we appreciate those who are in positions of importance, power, responsibility or authority that remember that and show common courtesy to those who they are working with.

While it doesn’t appear in any management book that I’ve ever read. Aretha Franklin may have had the key to good management relations when she sung the song, RESPECT, that’s all you need to do for me. The manager who remembers that his or her employees are ultimately looking for respect from those they work for knows the key to successful employee relations. Common courtesy to those who you work with is the key to showing the respect that people are looking for.

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