I like to read a weekly column in The New York Times called “The Corner Office,” which is always an interview or a profile of a corporate leader. One that still stands out for me, is an interview with Walt Bettinger, who has been CEO of the Charles Schwab Corp. since 2008. Among other topics, Bryant asked Bettinger if he learned any leadership lessons in college. Here’s how Bettinger responded:

"A business strategy course in my senior year stands out. I had maintained a 4.0 average, and I wanted to graduate with a perfect average. It came down to the final exam, and I had spent many hours studying and memorizing formulas to do calculations for the case studies.

The teacher handed out the final exam, and it was on one piece of paper, which really surprised me because I figured it would be longer than that. Once everyone had their paper, he said, 'Go ahead and turn it over.' Both sides were blank.

And the professor said, 'I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, which is this: What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?'

And that had a powerful impact. It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the B I deserved. Her name was Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve ever worked with since.

It was just a great reminder of what really matters in life, and that you should never lose sight of the people who do the real work.

Results are what your company gets paid for. A remodeling project done well is what your clients buy.

However, focusing too much on results can leave a company owner forgetting about those who produce the results.

Focusing too much on results can leave a company owner forgetting about those who produce the results.

I used to do a lot of on-site consulting and facilitate peer group meetings, both of which are typically done in hotel meeting rooms.

My work going successfully often depends on people I am meeting for the first time. When introducing myself, I work hard to remember their names. It takes several tries for me, as I am distracted getting ready to run the event.

Over the course of the event, each of the members of the hotel staff has a big impact on how easy it is for me to do a good job. Simple things - lunch being ready on time, the AV equipment working, or the room being refreshed when we are on a break - make a big difference for me and for the attendees.

My experience more often than not is that when I take the time to establish and maintain a personal connection to the staff I will be depending on, I am taken care of very well.

What could you do in your business to connect better with those you depend on? Here are some things I recommend:

  • Every week, have lunch with a different employee, trade contractor or vendor. Ask them about how they are doing. Build a relationship.
  • When you have noticed someone going above and beyond, send a note of appreciation to their significant other. Point out what you noticed and thank the significant other for supporting your employee in their work with you and your company.
  • Take the time to stop at a work site (or walk around the office) and thank your employees, one-on-one, for working with you. Make sure you make your appreciation specific to the person you are talking to.

The way to get great results is to focus on nurturing the people you depend on. Sometimes you have to expand your vision to see them. If you can do this, you'll pass the Real Test.