I have a friend who once worked in the headquarters office of a mid-sized company. She held an accounting position, so by the nature of the job, she generally stayed behind the scenes both inside and outside the company. Although she had been there several years, she had never had occasion to interact with the CEO. After all, a person wouldn’t have to stand on her tiptoes to reach my friend’s rung on the corporate ladder.

Imagine her surprise one evening when, after working late, she rounded a corner as she was leaving the building and almost literally ran into the CEO. She was even more shocked when he addressed her by name and asked her about some of the particulars of her job. He even knew where her cubicle was located. She had absolutely no idea this man knew who she was and what she did, let alone that he would recognize her face. Although the CEO had a reputation for being tough and intimidating, my friend’s regard for him increased tremendously after that incident.

For whatever faults he may have had, that CEO surely understood this critical component of the human psyche: people have identities; they are individuals who individually contribute. Nothing makes them feel more connected than showing them they matter, that they are not just cogs in a wheel. That CEO clearly cared enough about the individual contributors in his company to take the time to know their names, faces, and jobs–even when he had no direct interaction with them. Anyone he passed in the hall, he addressed by name. It’s a powerful model for behavior.

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