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In April of 2009 I sat on a full flight, headed for a conference in Phoenix, AZ, reading an early draft of a book called Go-Givers Sell More by my friends Bob Burg and John David Mann. I was in the center seat with a large gentleman to my right and another to my left. Somewhere over what I guess might have been Colorado I began to cry.

It wasn’t that the book upset me. Far from it. Go-Givers Sell More is a delightful read (I especially love The Law of Left Field) with a lot of very practical information on building successful traits and real life examples of how The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success from The Go-Giver can be applied.

No, I was crying because I had reached page 73 and discovered my own story as one of those real life examples.

I still feel a little sorry for those two gentlemen who shared my plane ride that morning. I don’t suppose there is anything more unsettling than to have a complete stranger get all teary-eyed and you without a hanky or another seat you can move to. But I assured them all was well, happy tears, and flashed them a big smile to prove it.

It was, after all, a story about smiling. In December of 2008 I had posted a story on this blog titled The Perfect Gift. In it, I recounted how, as a young manager in an accounting firm, I played a game called “what will it take to make you smile.”

John David Mann surprised me by reposting it to The Go-Giver blog. I was thrilled and honored, but I didn’t think a lot more about it. As it turns out, he and Bob Burg thought a lot more about it. They included that story in their second Go-Giver book; Go-Givers Sell More.

Now, with the third Go-Giver book in development (that is ALL I’m going to tell you) and with the season of giving once more upon us, I want to share the sequel and what I think is the REAL lesson in that story.

If you read that post, you know that I made a “personal walking ambassador” out of one “difficult client.” As many stories do, this one takes an unhappy turn before it all turns bright again. You might think that my employers and peers would have learned something from my little game. In the perfect parable it would have changed our culture, invited in sunshine and ended with the corporate equivalent of angles singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

Not at all. In fact, they mocked me for being a Pollyanna. I was teased about thinking that just because I could win over one grouchy vet that I could change the world. Let me cut that train of thought short by just saying it was NOT a happy place to be for me, or sadly enough, for the people who refused to see the potential of a smile.

So I left. Intending to enroll in college again I applied with a temp agency where they asked me, ever so nicely, to interview with a dentist who had engaged them to recruit an office manager for him. I knew nothing about dentistry, didn’t intend to take a full time job, let alone another management position, so of course, when he offered me the position I said “yes.”

Here is where the “lesson” part comes in (just so you don’t get caught up in the story and miss it.)

Dr. Theodore (Pete) Wiklund, being a dentist, valued smiles. But even more, he valued the attitude of giving people a REASON to smile. He encouraged me, he invested in me, he mentored me (and he took care of my smile very well.) In the first few months as I tried to learn dentistry and dental management, he would often stay after patient hours and walk me through the procedures he had performed so that, the next day, I could carry on an intelligent conversation with our patients. If I asked to take a continuing education course he paid for it. If I suggested a team building activity he supported it.

He encouraged me to take on the role of practice ambassador in the community. I volunteered at the local community theater and he helped sponsor every show I worked. I enjoyed serving on committees with the Chamber of Commerce and he excused me from my daily duties to attend meetings. The list goes on, he gave me reasons to smile and he and his team and I gave our patients reasons to smile.

In the time I was his manager the practice more than doubled in revenues. We moved into a new modern building, added an associate dentist and were on the leading edge of technology for both patient treatment and patient comfort.

Many years later, I visited his practice as a management consultant. He had added yet another dentist, expanded his space to meet patient demand and his revenues had increased proportionately. I asked him what he was doing to be so successful in a small college town that was known for being one of the most competitive markets in the Midwest. He said, “The same things we did when you were here, Dixie. It’s working.”

(BTW - If you’ve ever heard Bob Burg speak on Law #1 from The Go-Giver and he mentioned the value added by the dentist who called her patients the day after difficult treatment… yes, we did that. Always.)

Why is a smile the perfect gift? Because a smile is a gift that validates the giver and the recipient at the same time. Because one smile is a reason for another smile. Because if getting a smile feels good, smiling in return feels even better. Especially during the holiday season, when the days get short and the to-do lists get long, a smile can make the day a little brighter and the load a little lighter.

But think about this…

What if the accounting firm had seen the VALUE in a culture where smiles are a valuable commodity? I assure you that Dr. Wiklund’s success was directly proportionate to the consistency with which he and his team recognized the value of a smile (and not just because smiles were their trade.)

What if YOU made it your business to have a “smiling attitude?” If you put “adding joy wherever I go” at the top of your to-do list, not just during this season, but year round?

I can’t predict exactly what would happen. If you DO decide to play my game of “what will it take to make you smile?” be sure and study Law #5. Because I think, if you do that, you’ll need to be “open to receiving” all kinds of wonderful gifts in return.


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