Great Leaders Give Special Treatment

Do you have a special “thing” with your team members? Is there something that you do only with them, either individually or together? If not, then you should.

Leaders give special treatment

As a team

There should be something special that you do as a team that no other team in your organization does.

Here are some real-life examples that I have either initiated as a leader or been a part of:

First Monday Donuts.

On the first Monday of every month, one of us was responsible for bringing in donuts. In retrospect, this explains why our performance on the first Monday of every month was abysmal, but it was worth it.

Team Meetings Over Ice Cream.

Recommended Reading: First, Break All the Rules

Recommended Reading: First, Break all the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. You will learn how to lead by exception and break all the rules you learned growing up. A classic!

How many other teams in the company had regular meetings over ice cream? Exactly none. This was our special deal. And just getting out of the office and enjoying a treat made for some great meetings. (This is one I had actually forgotten about before I wrote this. Needless to say, it will make a return one day.)

Team Stand-ups.

Lest you think everything I do as a leader involves sugar, I include this. It may seem like a small thing, but I ran the only department that had daily stand-up meetings. And I mention this because it bucked company culture a bit. If you are in a position to do so, find something that no other part of the organization is doing and do it. Of course, we did these daily stand-ups for a reason (you can learn more on Tom Dixon’s guest post on meetings), but one of the benefits that developed was the feeling that this was our special “thing.”

With individuals

This is the harder part for leaders, because most leaders think they should treat each person on the team the same. It seems there is some sort of egalitarian gene in most leaders that causes them to fear giving any special treatment to any one team member.

One of my favorite books on leadership, First, Break all the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, demolishes the argument that we should treat all of our team members the same. The reality is that you should give preferential treatment to your top performers and that you should provide special training to certain team members over others. But that is not what I am referring to here. These ideas are meant to build relationships in special ways.

Think of your friends. There is one friend with whom you play golf. One with whom you go fishing. One with whom you talk late into the night. You don’t necessarily do all of those things with each of your friends, but that doesn’t mean you prefer one over the other. The same is true with your team members.

Here are three examples of special things I did with my team members.

Dinner Meetings.

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I had one team member with whom I habitually ate dinner. He managed a department that was under me and we always found ourselves working late. We were both young and single, while the rest of my team was older and married, so this was our special thing. We’d leave the office and by the end of the dinner, there would be papers all over the table with notes, emails sent to ourselves with reminders, and more. In short, they were massively productive.

Football Meetings.

I had another team member with whom we frequently met outside to play catch with the football. That was our “thing.” I remember fondly those warm Nashville days in February when it had been six weeks since we had one of those meetings. The sun would peak out, we’d break 55 degrees, and we would have one of our meetings. Sometimes we discussed a lot of business, sometimes personal stuff, sometimes nothing at all. Either way, it was a great break from the mundane.

Practical Joke Teammate.

I love to play practical jokes in the office. So I needed a teammate and I found one in a guy I will call Andrew. He and I plotted some masterpieces in our day. That was our “thing.” Anytime someone else saw the two of us whispering in the office, they knew we were up to something.

Leaders, it is your responsibility to do things with your team that no one else does. It is your job to make your team different. And it is your job to find that special “thing” that you only do with certain team members, to treat them as…individuals.

How have you created special “things” with your team? How have you seen other great leaders do this?

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  • David Mike

    In an environment where we do not get a lot of recognition, I stumbled upon this “Thank You Revolution”, that I have begun to implement. The response has been amazing. The two team members that have been recipients, feel validated and valued. They already knew that I felt this way but, putting it to paper has been Revolutionary. Thank you Matt, for reminding me what is important. Developing relationships!

    • Well well we’re glad you’ve stumbled upon it! Looking forward to connecting with you more on here David!

    • That is awesome to hear David!

  • Katherine Leicester

    Reading about great leadership makes me smile. Great leaders are all about the details of their people. And the ROI from this type of attention and behavior is huge.

  • I love it Matt!! Leaders create connections. And memories. It helps people be willing to give more of themselves and be the best they can be!

    Love the idea! I did this back when I was coaching your soccer. Looking back, it may not have been a great idea, but my team of 10 year old kids and I would always meet down by the goal before the game and chug a Red Bull!!
    (With parental permission!)

    Thanks for the great post!

    • 10 year olds on Red Bull? Yeah, about that Mark.

      But it is a great point, even if it might cause cardiac arrest :)

      • Haha. True, maybe not the best idea. But you know what, ten years later those kids remember me! And they always bright up. It’s amazing how easy it is to make people feel like they’re part of something!!

  • Michael McLaughlin

    Excellent advice Matt. Looking forward to reading the book you recommended. It also sounded like you were summarizing another great business read:

    Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable…About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business

    By: Patrick M. Lencioni

    Keep up the great work. As always, you’ve given us food for thought.


  • Let’s Grow Leaders

    Great post. I’ve also found it so important that the special thing changes as I move into new leadership roles in the organization. People will talk about the special thing you did with the last team… it’s vital to mix it up when you move to the next role. Treat every team as absolutely unique and let the choices for connection emerge for what feels best.

    • Great point, especially if you move up internally. Add a few new things. You can still do “what you are known for,” whatever that may be, but find something special with the new team.

  • Glad to see my post mentioned here again – it was a lot of fun to write. I need to find something to do with my team like you suggest, we are getting some pressure lately and I think it would help relieve some of the tension.

    • It will do you a world of good. My suggestion is to do something small and spontaneous at first. For your regular weekly meeting, for example, cater in some ice cream or take the team out for some. And allow them to stick around longer than usual to just talk afterwards. It is ok to have the occasional unorganized and long meeting.

  • First Break all the Rules is also one of my favorite books. Creating and having special moments and experiences with those on our team is so valuable. It’s a great way to gain influence with them. Great post!