Written by Kevan McBeth, Chief Purpose Officer, Affective Consulting


I make no apologies for my unorthodox path to where I am today as a leader and human resource professional. While many of my friends and colleagues were earning their degrees in Universities across the country, I spent my time leading teams in restaurants and bars, and winding through the service industry.  I never regretted the time spent managing people in those situations, and although I eventually found my way back to the classroom, I can honestly say that I learned as much or more from a number of mentors in those restaurants and bars than I did from professors.

One of my favourite lessons about employee engagement, and the ability to build strong teams was from a Restaurant leader who taught me the value of speaking to people with humanity. His trick to engaging his staff was using these simple words when directing others to complete day to day tasks:

“Can you do me a favour?”

Just stop and think about that sentence for a minute. Think about the difference in the impact on the individual you are asking for action. Consider how their reaction changes when they hear a request for help over a directive.  Imagine for a second how those 6 words change the overall relationship between a leader and his/ her subordinate.

You are making yourself relatable.

Why does it work so effectively? Well for starters, you are showing vulnerability- that you are human, and at times in need of some support yourself. Employees are far more inclined to connect with a leader who shows that he or she is human, and is willing to reach out for help.

You're channeling Ben Franklin. 

And here’s the best part- by simply asking for a member of your team to do you a favour, you are actually increasing their level of engagement.  

How is that even possible?  

It’s called the cognitive dissonance theory, or the Ben Franklin Effect – the proposed psychological phenomenon that suggests a person who has performed a favor for someone is more likely to do another favor for that person than they would be if they had received a favor from that person. 

As the story goes, Ben Franklin struggled to connect with rival legislators when he served in the Pennsylvania legislature in the 18th century.  He used personal vulnerability and the power of cognitive dissonance (as well as expressions of gratitude for the kindness of his counterparts) to build connections with others, many of whom became life-long friends.

Who knew that asking for a favour would actually make you more likeable in the eyes of others?

You are strengthening engagement of employees through your leadership.

Having a tough time connecting with a particular member of your staff? Ask them to do you a solid and help you out. Simply by asking the question, you are psychologically changing the way they think of you and chances are, will be far more open and accepting of your direction and vision the next time you connect with them.

But it doesn't work without sincerity and appreciation.

Since learning this sentence, I can’t tell you how many times that I have used those six little words with my staff, with my children and with others in my life. Each and every time I do I see the value proposition of my request change the behaviour of the favour-giver. My requests go from the traditional eye-roll of an instruction to near excitement to be helping another person out. But, here's the kicker - if you don’t follow the action with acknowledgement and sincerity of appreciation, don’t bother.

Just as with any situation, action without some form of reinforcement is wasted. Asking someone to do a favour for you is no different - the action will get completed, but without positive reinforcement, you will lose the magic of the ask. Make sure you don't make the mistake of not being appreciative after the task is completed, or the spell will be broken. 

Don't be afraid to be a vulnerable leader.

Part of trying to build a higher level of communication and engagement with your employees demands your authenticity. If you are unwilling to be the slightest bit vulnerable, or unable to pull off acknowledgement that appears to be genuine and authentic to those who give you a hand, you may as well not attempt this simple, yet effective lesson.

But if you are willing to give it a shot, I promise- it will be worth it.