Even the Least of These

Joshua Messenger

February 22, 2022

“Big things are often just little things that people notice”

— Markus Zusak

It’s fascinating how people are motivated by simple appreciation from their bosses. I found that I’m no exception.

I work as a sports cameraman for my Division I NCAA University. When I rewatch the games later, it’s incredibly gratifying to see my handiwork on a polished broadcast. In my field, those moments are the tangible results of collective hard work.

We typically run four cameras, with three looking for replay angles and one live “play-by-play.” The zoomed out, live one—Camera 1—is the most important because it’s the primary shot the director uses throughout the game. Without it, the viewers can’t get a coherent sense of the action.

However, it’s also incredibly boring to work.

As soon as I settle into the proper light and zoom settings, it’s simply a matter of panning left and right, keeping the ball onscreen at all times. Easy. Ridiculously easy. And I hate it.

I vastly prefer the other cameras on the court. There, I get to seek different angles, I’m in the action, and no one notices if I make a mistake.

But last week, I was assigned Camera 1 at a basketball game, a guaranteed two hours of moving my hand side-to-side with little reprieve.

The game was extremely entertaining, and I could visualize the incredible angles my colleagues were getting elsewhere of the fans going crazy and the players juking and jiving, nailing three-pointers. Meanwhile, I felt like I wasn’t contributing.

So, I made up my mind. I was going to do it flawlessly.

I focused carefully on keeping any movements smooth and tidy, tweaked the zoom, and switched up the panning speed to reflect the atmosphere of the game.

With these small changes, I imagined the audience leaning in for a three-pointer as I zoomed slightly or holding their breath as I swept the shot across the court, following a long pass.

At the end of the game, I knew I did a great job!

But in the post-game meeting, the other cameramen got all the shoutouts from the director. That was disappointing. I had focused on creating a perfect product just as much as they had, but because I could only manipulate subtle things, no one noticed.

Next time I’m on Camera 1, it would be all too easy to give less effort. An ordinary job will probably generate the same amount of positive feedback. If the leader had taken just a few seconds to include me in the post-game praise, I may have gotten the validation needed to give more in the future. 

Of course, I’ll still try my best next time, but I’m reminded of those people in your organization who are working diligently on the most menial of tasks, and they want that same gratification from their work. You, their leader, are probably the only one who will provide it.

Janitors won’t get thanked by people who toss their food in the trash can. Security guards won’t get thanked by those passing through. It’s up to you to notice quality work and dish out the thanks, because no one else will.

With jobs that most people can do, it’s difficult to differentiate an acceptable job from a great job. No one notices if the shelves are restocked quicker, just like no one noticed the small things I was doing to enhance our broadcast.

And there’s no shame in not noticing! You would really need to pay attention to know when someone is doing incredible work in an ordinary position.

But these types of jobs are often the most important. Without them, it can be significantly more difficult to accomplish goals and meet standards.

It’s unrealistic to expect a leader to begin inspecting every worker carefully, looking for perfection amongst the humdrum. Instead, a leader should be aware of the workers who are solid citizens.

They don’t have to be all-stars, but a critical job completed is automatically important. Giving them praise and thanks will not only provide the gratification they seek, but most likely increase performance. Someone who finishes their reports early one week is likely to do it again the next time if they’re recognized.

Recognition and appreciation lead to improvement, which feeds into the overall mission of all our jobs: to do better.

When you evaluate your organization, try to call out all good work, because even the least of these has the potential to be the greatest.

Do you want to improve your leadership – there’s no better way than to read, think, talk, and write about it. Subscribe here to get a free, no advertisement, weekly article in your email to help you open up conversations in your organization. Lead well!

2 thoughts on “Even the Least of These

  1. Well written ! Sincere appreciation is one of “The Means of Grace” that blesses and encourages individual members of the team. This genuine encouragement yields long-lasting fruit.


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