5 lessons in motivation from my tailor

danny the tailorHis name is Danny (that’s him in the middle) and he owns “Danny’s Fashion Shoppe, bespoke tailors Hong Kong”. His shop is tiny, tucked into one of the many arcades that line Kowloon’s streets. The shop walls are stacked high with bolts of cloth interrupted three or four times by mirrors.

I used to get my suits made there. Every time I passed through Hong Kong I’d lay over long enough to be fitted for new duds. Danny always did a great job at a fair price. I left there feeling better about my purchase and about myself. Custom made things do that. They mean that someone has listened to you, done what is important to you, and conformed to your individual tastes.

But beyond the obvious benefits to the owner and purchaser of a custom made suit, there are the not-so obvious benefits for the person who creates a custom made product. Now, it is also obvious that I am not taking up your time to write about suits and my experience with a tailor on the other side of the world. A few days ago I wrote about my old Ford pickup and the idiosyncrasies of getting it started and keeping it running. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do (but then, I would recommend my own work, now wouldn’t I? – it can be found here.)

So the subject at hand is tailor-made acts of inspiration and motivation. I’ve already established that one size fits only one and that blanket acts of motivation are highly inefficient and only somewhat effective as a general rule. Like a suit off the rack, which can look pretty good, can be made of quality material, and can be customized somewhat to massage the details and make it fit better, our efforts at motivation can be somewhat effective.

But I like Danny my tailor and here’s why and here are the important things that apply to our job as leaders and managers.

Pay attention.

Danny paid attention to me. When we first met he was thorough. He found out what I liked and what did not like. He advised about what worked well on me and what did not. He did what he could to make sure I had his undivided attention. Do you know what your associates like and don’t like, what fits and what doesn’t? We can’t motivate well unless we know what motivates them well.

Your presence and participation is vital not just incidental, organizational, or academic.

Leaders are not divorced from the workplace. Even when you are not physically there, your influence is. The values you hold, reinforce, and reward resonate throughout the company. Your handiwork can be seen long after you are out of the picture. Never underestimate your power of persuasion and influence. Never take for granted the effect you have on others.

It means your prejudices and presumptions have been challenged and most likely revised, altered, or scrapped altogether.

Danny learned over time what worked for me but he made no assumptions. He was not guilty, as many leaders are, of immaculate perception, that fantasy that their beliefs, presumptions, assumptions, and perceptions are infallible and divine. No indeed, Danny learned that he needed to learn who I am and what I like. Never assume. Never presume.

It means you actually have to listen to what you learn and do something about it.

I would not be writing accolades of a tailor I knew years ago if he had made suits of a material, color, fabric, or fit that I did not like. I would be writing accusations instead. One store manager held a weekly meeting with the department managers. The store manager would bring a pad and pencil to the meeting. Whenever an issue would come up in discussion he would make himself  a note and mumble that he would deal with it.

He never did!

All the managers soon learned that when the store manager wrote on that pad and said he would deal with it, what he really meant was that he would toss that paper in the trash as soon as he got back to his office.

Associate and employees expect action not talk.

It means you’ve stopped talking and started listening.

Face it. We’re in love with the sound of our own voice. We talk a lot. We have to talk a lot. Ralph Nichols said that  “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Danny is still in business even after decades. No custom products producer will survive for long unless s/he listens. You won’t either.

And I’ll close with Danny’s tagline – “God made you a man, we make you look like a gentleman.” The things we do and say either makes people feel better about themselves or they don’t. Motivation…or the lack of it, does the same thing.

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