Leadership Lessons From Bruno Mars

by Laura Schwarz, 1/11/2019

I didn’t like Bruno Mars’s “Just The Way You Are” until I heard it at 1 a.m. in an Amsterdam piano bar. I was out with a dozen clients from almost as many countries. They knew every word — and belted out “’cause you are amazing, just the way you are” as if contestants on “The Voice”. I instantly realized how these lyrics linked to my leadership workshop the next day.

Every country views leadership differently. I had to address that. But those words reminded me that regardless of how leadership looks in the United States, Germany, France or Italy, some human needs transcend cultures. To feel amazing, people must be seen, valued and heard. Leaders who ignore this cannot unleash their teams’ full potential. When only 34% of US employees are engaged in their work, according to Gallup, three easy, no-cost strategies can ensure people are indeed seen, valued and heard.

And maybe even feel amazing.

Make eye contact with people, not your phone

Walking through the office with your face in your phone means your only eye contact is with your screen. Countless employees have expressed to me or through employee engagement surveys how demotivated they feel when a leader walks by without acknowledging them.

The leaders mean nothing by this; they are simply blind to the impact of this behavior and how it leaves the person ignored asking (understandably) paranoid questions. Why did she ignore me? Is he mad at me? What did I do wrong? A leader is supposed to inspire, not, even unintentionally, leave team members questioning their value. That extra e-mail or text message? Not worth it. It can wait.

Put the phone away while walking the floor, and see your employees. Smile, make eye contact, and greet them by name. As Dale Carnegie wrote: “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Say “thank you”

People work best for people who value them. Increasingly lean organizations have created high-stress environments that leaves acknowledgement, let alone praise, at a minimum. The two-word antidote: Thank You.

A decade ago, at American Express, I was working on a presentation that our Senior Vice President, Raymond, would deliver the following Monday. The clock was ticking – I was flying to Florida on vacation on Thursday night. By noon Thursday I knew I had to stay. I didn’t want to add stress to him. I skipped my flight, we wrapped up past 10 p.m., and started up again early in the morning.

An envelope was waiting for me, leaning up against my computer screen. In it was a note from Raymond – hand-written, old-school – thanking me for taking one for the team. I kept his note for years. I felt like my commitment was valued, and it fueled my desire to continue to go above and beyond.

Adam Grant’s and Francesca Gina’s research on gratitude showed that 35 percent of employees said their managers never said thank you. Leaders who did show simple appreciation saw remarkable results. For example, when employees at a fundraising call center were personally thanked by their leader and reminded of their work’s importance, they made 50 percent more calls. Talk about return on a minimal investment.

Identify what you are grateful for and thank those responsible for making it possible.

Put on your listening hat

Sometimes you must trade your problem-solver hat for a listener hat. You may think your employees want or need you to fix some issue, but we all, sometimes, just need to be heard.

One of my clients, who worked at a brand consultancy, prided herself on her ability to remove obstacles for her team so they could stay productive. Her top employee was caught dismayed – at a difficult time in his personal life – by a new floor plan, and she couldn’t do anything about it. He came by to vent for a solid ten minutes. When he finished, she said she wished there was something she would do. He just smiled.

“I’m not expecting you to be able to do anything, but I do feel better just being able to talk about it,” he said. She learned that giving people a simple avenue to voice their opinions, even if no one can change the outcome, is vital. Sometimes, a hand is less valuable than an ear.

Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, said we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listening lets others feel heard and … amazing, just the way they are. So keep those ears open, even in piano bars. And if you’re listening, Bruno Mars, thank you.

Laura Schwarz, the founder of i2 Leadership, has developed leaders at some of the nation’s top companies, including American Express, Citibank, Columbia Business School and the National Basketball Association. Her leadership programs and executive coaching have inspired and advanced the careers of over 1,000 leaders worldwide.