The importance of ‘please’

Why it is that I find myself, as a new-ish Dad, quoting my father?…

What my father has in spades is manners.

As a young teacher he was quickly promoted and ended up leading people at schools he’d previously taught at, having returned, promoted.

That would have been a challenge. Colleague one day, then a year or two later, their team leader. And younger.

Over summer I spent time with Dad talking about his leadership philosophy and how he managed people, especially as a relatively-young school principal.

One insight he shared with me was the importance of ‘please’.

Dad said that he always asked people collegially, he gave directions using the term please, he was clear in what he wanted, and he always offered his staff to talk to him if they needed. Lastly, Dad said, he thanked them. In short, he led as he wanted to be led himself.

It may sound formulaic, but there’s nothing formulaic in leading people – those so-called ‘soft skills’ can be very hard and require constant attention.

I was reminded of Dad’s experience as I reflected listening to a friend of mine a while back, who told me of a technically-brilliant but leadership-deficient colleague she’d worked with.

The guy my friend had worked with was great at the nuts and bolts of his specific job, but somehow, he’d missed the point when it came to giving a jot about how he communicated with his team, or even his peers.

My friend’s eyes rolled as she painted a vivid picture of a martinet-in-a-suit-in-an-office whose idea of ‘communication’ was to demand things via email, only speaking to people when he wanted something, and never bothering with a polite kind word with his team.

Not once did I get a request with the word please in it,

my friend recalled.

Not once was I asked how I was going, and not once did my boss take me out and have a chat, asking me if there was anything they could do for me.

What was sadder, in her view, was that no-one ever said anything to the team leader, whose team morale was just about as poor as their performance.


My father’s oft-used phrase of “you catch more flies with honey” is a good one, and I shared it with my friend. It’s Dad’s way of saying you get more if you ask for things – politely.

I was a robot, in the end,

my friend said.

I just gave up and figured my boss would never change, he’d never care about anyone else other than himself, and he had no interest in people other than himself. I woke up one day and decided to get out.”

And get out they did – my friend’s since moved on in their career and she’s happily working in a smaller company, with lots of interaction and a positive culture.

It all could have been different, my friend concluded.

He was technically so clever, yet he had the emotional intelligence of a brick – and all he had to do – for me – was just say please.

In the hurly-burly of zinger-word laden corporate life, there’s an important lesson in my friend’s experience, unpleasant as it was for her.

Say please, say thank you, actively think about the people you work with and for, what their needs are, and how you can empower them.

Don’t be that emotional brick in an office thinking you’re sh*t hot – because if you are, chances are you’re not. And your staff will know it.


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