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The Little Things Matter

As I draw ever closer to my big retirement day, people keep asking me about what I’ve learned along the way.

I take that question to heart. What have I learned? What would I do better if I could go back 10, 20 or 30 years?

I think my biggest learning is little things matter!

When I was a few years into my career, I remember we had a very high-level executive who would give employees (not just her direct reports) beautiful birthday cards. She would also wander the office and stop and chat whenever out of her office. I remember one time when she stopped into my cubicle. I was busy working and she came in and sat down. She started chatting. My initial thought was: “What the heck? I’m busy. What does she need?” I didn’t value or understand how important that visit and her time really was because I was wrapped up in me and getting the job done.

As time passed, this memory kept popping up in my mind. I couldn’t shake it. I started to ask myself why I kept thinking about it. At around the same time, I was asked to be a senior-level executive. I was thrilled for the opportunity and jumped right in. My initial response was my focus needed to be on “getting the job done.”

One day, my senior ops advisor mentioned a comment one of the management assistants (MA) made. The MA asked if I was mad at her. The senior ops advisor asked why she’d think that. The response ROCKED my world.

Well, when I see Becky in the hall or when she drops by the office, she always talks to me and asks about my family and all. Her emails, though, are all just business. It sounds like she’s mad at me because it’s not how we interact in person.

WOW!!! I was horrified. Was I coming across that way in my emails? I never knew that or heard that before. I didn’t want that to be what team members thought of me or leadership.

This reshaped me as a leader. The memory I had of that executive who gave birthday cards and who popped into my office unannounced immediately came to mind. I needed to be the leader who cared. In fact, for anyone who ever saw “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” my heart grew three sizes that day!

From that time on, I made sure I took time to recognize birthdays — yes, even when I had 1,600 people reporting to me. A simple email that I sent (not a rule or sent by an MA) to say “Happy Birthday” was on my to-do list EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I made sure to:

Stop and talk to people on the way to the bathroom — even if they didn’t report to my organization…

Send condolence cards when employees’ family member passed or if I’m in the area to stop by and give a hug…

Ask about the family member who isn’t doing well before jumping into the work issue…

If I could go back to the 21-year-old me, I would say: “Do the little things before anything else.”

From my experiences, the most meaningful comments and appreciation come from the little things. Please, think about those little things that mean something to you and pass them forward to those with whom  you work. It will mean MILLIONS!

Rebecca (Becky) Mack Johnson’s government career spanned almost 34 years. She was an SES executive for over 15 years. Her leadership experiences ranged from business operations’ positions to the human capital side of the house, and she considers receiving the Treasury Department’s Leadership Legacy Award in 2017 as one of her greatest accomplishments. Becky completed her Master’s Degree in Strategic Public Relations in her early 40s. She is also an International Coaching Federation ACC certified coach and a Project Management Professional.

This article originally appeared on May 21, 2021.

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