Leadership and the abilty to lead others is often a skill you learn through life experiences. I learned a valuable leadership lesson when I was a swimming coach. A common technique flaw that many of the kids needed to overcome in the freestyle stroke (or crawl) was the habit of not pulling far enough under the center of their body where they had the greatest leverage and power. But if I attempted to correct swimmers who had developed a wide arm pull by saying, “Pull down the centerline of your body,” what do you think they said to me in response?

Looking at me as if I had lost my marbles, they’d reply in exasperation, “I am!” That’s exactly the same response you’ll often receive from those around you when you tell them to make positive changes. As a coach in a leadership position, it is crucial to remember that what you see may not match what your protégés are feeling. These kids had become comfortable pulling wide under their bodies. The feeling was ingrained as a habit. They already thought they were performing correctly.

That meant it did absolutely no good to tell them how to do it. What did I need to do to help them make the desired change? I had to apply the principle of exaggeration. I instructed them to pull as far across their body underwater as they could so the right hand swept way left under their bodies, and the left hand crossed way over to the right. As soon as they attempted to follow these instructions, guess where they pulled? Zap! Their pull came right down under the centerline of the body!

As they exaggerated in this way, how do you think it felt? At first, it was strange and uncomfortable. But the more they stayed with it, the more natural the motion became. Soon they settled into the new habit.

Taking those we love and appreciate for granted is nothing more than a habit. You can apply the principle of exaggeration to invigorate your relationships by becoming what I like to call a world-class-buddy thanker just as the swimmers applied the principle to improve their strokes. Write personal cards to friends, teammates, clients, and family members expressing your gratitude and admiration even when it’s not their birthday or anniversary. These “happy, heck-of-it” cards will delight the recipients, and they will once again know they are important. E-mail (which stands for ENERGY mail!) and voice mail provide fantastic opportunities to give compliments and to say thanks. Create “moments” for the special people in your life by giving unexpected gifts, arranging surprise events, or simply taking the time to be fully present as you tell them how much you appreciate them. Now THAT’S leadership!