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June 12, 2012

Employee Recognition: No One is Special

Have you ever had someone tell you that you’re “one in a million?”  It sounds like such a nice compliment on its surface, and I have no doubt that whoever told you that was sincere.  But, when you stop and realize there are 7 billion people on the planet Earth that means you have 6,999 other people that are just like you.

David McCullough is an English teacher who was asked to give the commencement speech to students graduating from the Wellesley, Massachusetts high school where he teaches.  The speech has gone viral for this phrase: “You’re not special.”

Mr. McCullough’s message is much more than that.  As I watched the speech, I couldn’t help but remember what is arguably one of the most inspirational movie moments of my lifetime.  If you didn’t make the same connection, you can watch it here.  I’ll give you a hint: you may address me as “O Captain, my Captain.”

What messages do you send to your employees?  I know recognition is important.  People want to know that what they’ve done is good.  Deep down, we’re all still looking for approval from somewhere.  But, if you tell everyone they’re special – whether it’s with a stellar performance review or a celebration every time a project is completed – pretty soon, no one is special because everyone is special.

“Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion – and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”   – - David McCullough

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