Just as sharks rely on suckerfish to thrive at the top of their food chains, leaders rely on their team members to be successfulWalter Bond explains why our “suckerfish” deserve our gratitude—and shares some ways to thank them for the value they bring.
Hoboken, NJ (November 2022)—Employees want to feel valued and appreciated. If they don’t, they’ll move on: “The Great Resignation” and “quiet quitting” are Exhibits A and B. But former NBA player and Hall of Fame motivational speaker Walter Bond says you shouldn’t say thanks out of fear they might leave—you should actually be grateful. Why? Because sharks (that’s you) need suckerfish (that’s them) just as much as the other way around.
“Remoras, or ‘suckerfish,’ attach to sharks and eat parasites that would otherwise sicken or kill them,” explains Bond, who turned this metaphor into a book titled Swim!: How a Shark, a Suckerfish, and a Parasite Teach You Leadership, Mentoring, & Next Level Success (Wiley, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-119-57356-2, $24.00). “They’re not just getting a free ride. They provide a life-sustaining service to the shark in exchange for food, transportation, and protection.
“In the human world, suckerfish are those who need direction, coaching, and guidance to get to the next level,” he adds. “They are our team members, students, and mentees. And if you think you’re doing them a big favor, it’s time to think again. In fact, this Thanksgiving I challenge you to reframe how you see your employees—and let them know that.”
Happy Employees Are An Invaluable Asset
Bond points out that happy employees are immensely valuable. Obviously, they do the work that gets you paid. But it’s not just a direct transaction: I’ll pay you X amount to complete tasks A, B, and C. Treat them well, and they will find ways to increase revenue and cut costs, take great care of your clients, look out for you (and each other), stick with you for the long haul, and naturally market your company to potential customers and coworkers.
“These are the value-added benefits that a salary can’t buy,” he insists. “They’re the by-products of real relationships, genuine caring, and true appreciation. It’s no exaggeration to say your suckerfish will make or break your company—and in times of crisis, they may save it.”
The more energy leaders put into thanking their suckerfish and helping them learn and grow, the more value they bring to the team—and the quicker they become sharks themselves, says Bond. Here are ten meaningful ways to thank your suckerfish this month—and all year-round:
When you say “thanks,” be specific.
Tossing off a generic “thanks” is too impersonal. Let your suckerfish know you’ve been paying attention to their efforts by describing exactly how they are bringing value to you—their shark—and to the entire team. You may want to mention that you value their input, their ideas, their hard work, their attitude, a certain action they took, etc.
Put it in writing.
“Don’t underestimate the value of a handwritten thank-you note,” says Bond. “You’d be surprised by how many people treasure the thank-you notes they receive from their sharks, and save those notes for years. This Thanksgiving, write a thoughtful note of gratitude to each suckerfish in your life.”
Make “thank you” a part of your everyday routine.
Noticing and appreciating your suckerfish’s everyday efforts can be just as meaningful as recognizing them for a big milestone or achievement. Plus, when recognition becomes a habit, you’ll be less likely to forget about it if you’re busy, stressed, or preoccupied. When you see something you appreciate, acknowledge it right away. It takes only a few seconds to say, “Narayan, thank you for treating that angry customer so courteously”—but the downstream benefits can be tremendous.
Remind suckerfish of their purpose.
It’s easy for people to lose sight of the bigger picture and assume their work doesn’t matter. Connecting someone’s efforts to a meaningful outcome is a wonderful gift. For instance, you might say, “We’re facing a cold winter, so every time you service someone’s HVAC system you are giving them peace of mind that they’ll be comfortable and warm in the coming months. I appreciate your hard work and I know our customers do too.”
Help them get where they want to go.
One of the best ways to thank your suckerfish for their efforts is to say, “I recognize your goals and potential, and I want to help you get to the next level.” Provide growth opportunities like mentoring, personal and professional development, cross-training, and skill acquisition. Coach your suckerfish not only on the technicalities of how to get promoted but on “soft skills” like relationship management and communication.
“Remember, the more you help people learn and grow, the more value they will bring to your team,” says Bond. “I truly believe that you aren’t successful unless you take others with you.”
Show them you care.
People want to know they are valued not only for their contributions, but for themselves. Engage in empathetic leadership and get to know your suckerfish as individuals with full lives. Ask them what they did over the weekend, how their kid’s basketball game went, or if their mother is out of the hospital. If you see a way to provide support, be ready to step up.
Feed them. Literally!
“Sharks let suckerfish devour all the parasites they can find; they also don’t mind if the suckerfish snack on scraps from their meals,” Bond says. “I’m betting your human suckerfish wouldn’t say no to a round of pizzas in the breakroom! Especially at the holidays, consider gift cards, tickets to shows or sporting events, or ‘free’ time off. These tangible reminders of your appreciation may be the bright spot in someone’s day, week, or month.”
Listen to them.
Ask people what makes them feel valued and appreciated. This is important: If they don’t feel appreciated, it isn’t happening—regardless of whether you think you’re doing a good job in this area.
“Different people desire different types of appreciation,” says Bond. “Some people might love to be recognized in front of everyone at a team meeting; others might prefer an afternoon off or a heartfelt private conversation.”
Be honest with them.
Show your suckerfish that you trust and respect them (and by extension, value them) by being transparent and honest. Let them know what challenges you are facing, and ask for their ideas and solutions. Be honest, too, with individual feedback you provide.
“You aren’t doing your suckerfish any favors by skipping over or sugarcoating things that need improvement,” says Bond. “This type of conversation isn’t fun, but handled empathetically, it shows people that you value them enough to help them improve and ultimately succeed.”
Give them what they need to do their jobs.
Similarly, it doesn’t matter how often you say, “I appreciate you!” if your people feel overwhelmed, overworked, and overstressed. To the extent you can, make sure your suckerfish have the time, resources, equipment, and training to do their jobs. Remove as many obstacles to their success as possible. For instance, make sure everyone on your team is aware of priorities and timelines so they are not working at cross purposes. Eliminate time-wasters such as unnecessary meetings or low-value “busywork.”
“It’s fairly easy to show your gratitude around the Thanksgiving holidays—the reminder is in the name!” concludes Bond. “But it’s also your responsibility to make sure your team members, mentees, students, or any other ‘suckerfish’ in your life feel appreciated all year long. The more valued they feel, the more productive, engaged, motivated, and loyal they will be.”
About the Author
Walter Bond is the author of Swim!: How a Shark, a Suckerfish, and a Parasite Teach You Leadership, Mentoring, & Next Level Success. Walter is also a renowned business coach, motivational speaker, and former NBA player. His time in the NBA taught him the fundamentals every team needs to be successful, and today he shares his knowledge with global audiences to help entrepreneurs, business leaders, sales teams, and employees get to the next level. Walter has keynoted conferences in numerous countries for brands such as 3M, Hilton, and Allianz.
For more information, please visit www.walterbond.com.
About the Book:
Swim!: How a Shark, a Suckerfish, and a Parasite Teach You Leadership, Mentoring, & Next Level Success (Wiley, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-119-57356-2, $24.00) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.walterbond.com.