Our oldest daughter, Ava, turned 5 a couple of weeks ago. It’s a big milestone in a little girl’s life because it means that kindergarten is right around the corner. Five is worthy of a special celebration! We made reservations for her to become a princess at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Inside Cinderella’s castle is a beauty salon called the "Bippity Boppity Boutique", where the little girls are magically made into princesses. We got there and Ava was asked to pick out a princess dress and shoes. We were then called back to a special dressing room where her new clothes were hanging and waiting for her. Her face lit up with excitement as they pulled back the red curtain to reveal the beautiful new outfit she was going to wear. Then it was on to the chair. She sat patiently while her hair, nails, and makeup (just a touch) were done. To top it all off, she was given a sash over her dress which declared that she was the “Birthday Princess”.
The look on her face when she saw herself in the mirror for the first time is priceless. We could tell that she definitely felt like a princess because she walked around with a grin all day long. It actually made our day knowing that she was so happy. We walked around the park, going from one ride to another and enjoying the beautiful weather. The ride attendant at the tea cup ride was talking with a guest when Ava caught the corner of his eye. He stopped what he was doing, looked down at her with a big smile on his face, and said, “Happy Birthday, Princess Ava. We’re so glad you came today.” Again, her face lit up with a huge smile. As we walked around the park, we began to notice that every employee would stop to wish her a happy birthday. Each time someone would say something to her, her confidence would grow and she would feel even more loved. She couldn’t have felt any more special.
In my new book, Child-Like Leadership, I talk about how I learned the hard way that leadership is about how you lift other people. Here is an excerpt from the chapter, “It’s Not About You”:
Think back to a time in your life when someone did something to make you feel like you were special. What happened that made you feel that way? Perhaps it was a time when your parents simply told you that they were proud of you. This is one that is so simple that many of us forget to express it. Maybe it was a time when a boss praised you in front of the entire company for something that you did. Maybe it was a time when you received a thank-you note from someone that barely know. These people went out of their way to make you feel special. They used their own time and energy on you.
Leaders have this important task of making the people around them feel special. There are many ways to do it for your team because everyone has different motivators. You can’t do the same thing for everyone and experience the same results. You have to do something special to make someone feel special. If you try a one-size-fits-all approach, you’ll be missing the point. Let’s go back again for a second, to that time in your past that you felt valued. Can you do that very same thing for the people that you lead?
I know that we can do the same thing for the people around us that the folks at Disney did for us. How?
- See that the other person is valuable. Everyone brings special skills, personality, and value to the table. Find what those special qualities are for the people around you. Some people may not even be aware that they have them.
- Find a way to make them feel even more valuable. Think about how they would want to receive the message. Some people prefer private, one-on-one discussion. Others like public praise. Many would love to receive a special note or gift. Figure out what is right for your team.
- Use the extra effort to make it happen. Point out those qualities in a special way. Praise them for what they do and help them feel good about being who they are. Go to them with a message or gift to show them your appreciation. It takes a little bit of extra effort on your part, but it goes directly into growing the other person’s self-esteem.
We left that day with one very happy (and tired) princess. We also left that day seeing how customer service should be. The employees of Disney World definitely understand how to make their guests feel special. They find a way to put a smile on each of the children’s faces and a memory in their hearts forever.
I think that day will stick out in Ava’s mind as one of those times in her life that she felt special. Creating strong connections depends on how you make the other person feel and the Disney World employees treated us as if we were the most important people in the entire park. John Maxwell said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We saw that day that they cared.