Sensitivity Lessons from Napoleon and Mark Twain

“Give me enough medals and I’ll win you any war.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

“I can live for two months on a good compliment.”
Mark Twain

Napoleon makes 3 key points: 1) Give recognition to those who help you get where you want to go; 2) Public recognition is exponentially more powerful than private; 3) Publicly recognize and reward individuals for the behaviors which support your objective.

Soldiers wear their medals proudly displayed for everyone to see. In fact, soldiers and officers are required to wear their medals to remind others what they have done and be a source of inspiration. You cannot help but look and see which soldier has earned which medal. There is a medal for every behavior you want in a soldier.

Mark Twain understood the deep-seated value of a compliment. Each compliment is nourishing, rewarding, and so valued people will change behavior to earn a compliment. Compliments signify more than genuine appreciation: they prove you are valued, you make others feel good, you make a tangible contribution.

Compliments boost the receiver’s self-esteem and make the complimenter feel good about themselves as well.

Compliments and recognition together serve as one of the rare forces for producing positive changes for everyone around.

The Secret Behind the Power Compliment

A simple thank you is nice. Even respectful. And brings many of the benefits above.

But again, Napoleon teaches us to go well beyond the simple thank you. Create public acknowledgements of appreciation for all to see—the civilian equivalent of medals to be proudly displayed. Examples include:

1. Monthly Announcements and Internal Postings of Those Who Go Above and Beyond

This requires you be on the lookout for good deeds. We know of several organizations who also reward the complimenters.

2. The Super-Thank-You Email

Receiving an email with a compliment is rewarding, but not as rewarding as when the same email is sent to the entire firm, practice, division, or relevant part of the organization for all to see.

3. The Personal Visit

Heads turn when leadership partners stop by and say thank you.

4. Formal Awards for Outstanding Acts

Create awards for those who stand out. Use multiple awards to prove your organization knows there are many people who deserve to be thanked—and recognized.

5. Create a Permanent and Public Place for Thank Yous (curated so it remains genuine)

Much like the pictures of your firm’s founders and leaders hanging on the walls, institutionalize the names of people who currently add value. Make this place analog and digital, and make it very public: think lunch areas, websites, and other shared spaces. Maybe a place in the lobby.

54% of law firms marketing leaders say resistance to change is their biggest obstacle to growth. Creating change in a law firm may be harder than conquering Europe. Creating change may be harder than writing the books considered by many to be the source of modern American Literature. But if you want to create change and drive performance in your firm, you can learn much from Napoleon and Mark Twain. 

MBR