A Matter of Degrees

She shivered.

As my better half and I left a quaint little bistro in the early evening the temperature had changed since we entered. From a balmy 70 initially, (21 to my friends on the other side of the pond) it was now a nippy 62 (17) since the sun set. Not that much of a difference really, but she needed a wrap so I bundled her in the car quickly with her shawl, safely out of the breeze.

Just a few degrees. Does it really matter?

At home I checked the last few emails of the day, the normal range of info, asks and directives as I closed the laptop for good. None extraordinary, none too demanding, yet one clearly different, not by much perhaps, just a few degrees. Less convivial. Less open. Less collaborative. More direction than request. Less empathy.

Brewing the coffee this am I reflected on these stylistic differences – email is such a poor tool to convey context – and I thought about the thousands (yes, thousands) of interactions I’ve seen, coaching moments I’ve offered and disappointments brought to my attention from one aggrieved party of another all due primarily to just a matter of degrees.


  • Calling someone’s work product “okay” when in fact it was really good
  • Failing to take advantage of praising other’s efforts publicly
  • Telling someone to go home early – they’ve been working hard enough
  • Accepting responsibility for a failure instead of casting blame on your team
  • Not remembering a birthday or a partner’s name
  • Forgetting to say “Thank you”
  • And on and on

Oh, but Christopher, you say, that’s bullshit. We’re busy people! We’re in a tough business! We dynamic leaders! We don’t have time to be nice – we have to get things done!

To which I say, nonsense. It’s not about being “nice” it’s about being human. It’s about being a leader others want to work for!

Its a matter of recognizing just about everyone shows up every day and does their best. Does that best vary from one day to the next? Of course. Even so, most people do their best regardless of the level. And here’s a well-known tip: people will try harder for a leader they respect. A leader who makes a difference with a minute more of their time, a focus on what’s working vs not and an obvious respect for the team. A leader slightly above other pretenders. Every single day.

This isn’t suggesting false praise or being rewarded for showing up at work: it’s a reminder that people bring their whole self to work when they feel acknowledged, needed and valued. Respected for their skills, knowledge and yes, efforts. People work that much harder when they feel validation and affirmation.

Just a slight difference in leadership behavior vs managers who don’t evidence care. Yet such a significant difference in performance and results.

It’s a choice.

It’s just a matter of degrees.