“It’s not so much what you have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have.” That’s one of thousands of quotes by Fred Rogers, star of the popular TV show for preschool children, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The show aired for 33 years on PBS and is credited for saving the network.
Although he passed away in 2003, a movie about Rogers and the impact of his relationship with a chastised magazine reporter was released around Thanksgiving. It reminded boomers and their children about the value of his messages, which successfully addressed young childrens’ social and emotional needs. Today’s leaders could learn from his messages, too.
Being truthful was one of Rogers’ big messages. Employees, particularly younger ones like millennials and Gen Z, expect openness and transparency from their leaders, which addresses another focus of Mr Rogers, which was knowing who one’s audience was and ensuring you speak to them.
Rogers understood how powerful emotions can be. With kids, he constantly reminded them of just how precious they were and, because of that, they trusted and believed in him. CEOs that understand and can emote their feelings with their own workforce will achieve the same.
In researching his role as Rogers, actor Tom Hanks spoke to people who worked with the television personality. What he heard was that Rogers made those he talked with feel like they were the most important person in the world. Leaders who speak to people as individuals will gain more respect and be perceived in the same way.
Silence or a pause can be very powerful during a conversation and Rogers employed it well. It wasn’t to make people nervous but rather to give kids time to not only listen, but also process.
One of the reasons for Rogers’ popularity was that he tackled and discussed issues head-on, some of which were controversial like divorce, pets and racism. At a time when racial segregation was still allowed, he invited a black member of the cast to dip his feet in a wading pool with him.
Leaders who can talk openly and candidly with employees about critical issues facing the company will be respected. Armed with an understanding of the matter, employees will also rally around him/her in support and develop deeper loyalty.
On the matter of pets, Rogers once introduced and talked about a dead goldfish in a fish tank on the set. Some psychologists praised him for calmly being open and allowing kids to process their sadness. When applying this to business, CEOs who display the same demeanor in tough times will have the respect of their staff.
Finally, Rogers was always himself on and off the set. There was no pretense or acting differently with TV crew members, guests, friends, business associates or family. Leaders who display the same attitude all the time will also be seen as real and credible.
The biggest lesson one can learn from Rogers is that today’s leaders have an opportunity to be respected and heard by their peers so long as they’re also made to feel like equals.
“The world needs a sense of worth, and it will only achieve it by its people feeling they are worthwhile.” Fred Rogers