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Great Leaders Understand Why Small Gestures Matter

Source | hbr.org | Bill Taylor

I travel a lot of for business, and like most frequent flyers, I dread connecting flights. Except, that is, when those connections take me through Denver or Charlotte, where the prospect of an hour between planes brings a smile to my face and a spring to my step. Why the good cheer? Because I know I’ll be able to spend time with the men and women of Executive Shine, one of the most soulful (or is it soleful?) businesses I’ve ever encountered.

Based on the name, you can easily guess what kind of company Executive Shine is: it provides shoe-shine services to harried travelers racing between airport gates. But everything about how it does business is utterly surprising. On my last trip through Denver, I was so struck by the signage around the stands that I posted photos on social media. “Be grateful,” one read. “Do it with passion,” said another. “Love lives here,” exclaimed a third. The 12-step shine process is intricate, fast-paced, and ends with a dramatic flourish—a small blowtorch that heats up the shoe’s leather to let the polish sink in. The folks who do the shines always have an interesting question to ask or a fun story to tell; they bring a level of engagement that is truly memorable.  And to top it off, the price is “whatever you think is right”—which means I happily pay more for an Executive Shine than the company would ever dream of charging.

For years, I thought Executive Shine was my little secret, one of the strange perks of being a road warrior, like having a favorite airport bar or knowing the fastest exit from a busy terminal. As it turns out, the company has become a kind of icon among business travelers and a source of fascination among business thinkers. One consultant published an essay on what he learned from Executive Shine

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