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Skip the salt, spread a little sugar

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

One of the guiding truths for Abraham Lincoln was that a "drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall." To woo subordinates, he would convey support and friendliness even if that meant masking his irritation.

Lincoln's wisdom still rings true. Just ask Mike Morris.

Morris is the chairman, president and chief executive of American Electric Power, a utility firm in Columbus, Ohio, that supplies more than 5 million customers with electricity. He recalls a lesson he learned as a young manager in 1983.

"I led a team of employees to present a proposal to build a new facility in a community," Morris says. "We made our presentation at an evening meeting of the town's zoning board of appeals."

The town leaders debated whether to approve the zoning changes that Morris and his employees sought. By midnight, the council voted against them.

At 7 the next morning, Morris and his seven colleagues prepared to report their results to an executive at their firm. As soon as the bleary-eyed crew arrived, the honcho greeted them by saying, "I understand you were rejected last night. Whose fault was it?"

"This executive led a blood-curdling inquiry into which one of us was guilty of failing to get the town's approval," Morris says. "We were like scared kids, wondering who would get fired."

Later that day, another executive met with the team and said, "I want to thank you all for working until midnight on this. And I heard you all managed to get here at 7 today. I appreciate your effort. Now, how can we fix this? Where can we locate this facility?"

To this day, Morris vividly recalls the two executives' different approaches. That's why he uses what he calls "encouragement and compliments" rather than "fear and anger" to get the best out of his staffers. He finds that people will work harder and smarter if their leader expresses faith in their ability and gratitude for their service.


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