3 leadership lessons from Dale Carnegie

Public relations execs looking to improve their relationships should borrow a page from the author of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’


In 1936, the world didn’t have computers. There were no tweets, pins or Facebook posts. Heck, the first chocolate chip cookie wasn’t even developed until 1938.

Times have changed, but one thing does remain the same: how you should treat people.

In “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” published in 1936, Dale Carnegie shares tried-and-true lessons from his years of extremely successful leadership.

These lessons aren’t focused on stealing power or schmoozing prospects. Instead, Carnegie found that to become more powerful and win at business, you have to treat people with nothing less than kindness. Here’s how.

1. Think beyond yourself.

It’s easy to experience life from your point of view, perceiving situations and conflicts from your perspective alone. It’s what the majority of people do, and, as Carnegie notes, it’s the reason differing opinions can result in controversy.

In Al Capone’s mind, his crimes were justified. Breaking the law was his way of making a living, and he had, to his thinking, a justified reason to do so. Now, you (hopefully) don’t deal with the likes of Al Capone, but Carnegie’s insights remain valuable in less drastic situations.

If you and a colleague disagree on, say, excessive workplace talking, don’t automatically go on the defensive. Step into his shoes. Think about the issue from his perspective before pointing fingers. Maybe that’s the culture he was used to in another office, or perhaps he talks frequently because he’s extremely excited about the work he’s doing.

You don’t want to mute that enthusiasm. Now that you’ve discovered the impetus behind his actions, you can work more empathetically toward a solution. You’ll find this makes you much more agreeable and pleasant, and an overall better leader.

2. Be engaged and interested.

You know those people at networking events who only talk about themselves, or the ones you can tell aren’t actually listening to what you say? Yeah. They’re not fun to talk to, and you probably don’t like them all that much.

To be likable, Carnegie shares some earth-shattering recommendations:

  • Be genuinely interested in other people.
  • Remember others’ names.
  • Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Listen intently.

They’re not earth shattering, but these commonly suggested ways to treat people are often forgotten when it comes to business.

Whether it’s a networking event, staff meeting or even lunch with a new colleague, make sure to follow the golden rule and treat others as you want to be treated. Or, more plainly put, don’t be that guy at networking events.

3. Empower and encourage.

We’ve all had that boss: The one who thinks calling you out immediately—sometimes loudly—for a mistake is the best way to right your wrong.

Remember how you felt after that scolding? I do, and it wasn’t good. The nerves I experienced caused slight nausea. If you’re like me, after that scolding, you felt timid about taking a risk or making a future mistake. That kind of trepidation is extremely detrimental to your team, however.

When your colleagues hold back their big ideas or avoid trusting their instincts, your clients and your workplace will surely suffer.

Instead of harshly scolding, follow Carnegie’s advice:

  • Start any criticism or critique with a compliment about the person’s work strengths. Example: “You’re doing a really great job at turning assignments in on time, but…”
  • Share your shortcomings to avoid making the person feel inferior or belittled. Example: “I remember my first time doing X, I worked too quickly and sent my email to the wrong person…”
  • Praise improvements as they happen, instead of critiquing then forgetting. These ongoing, well-deserved compliments will help the person gain confidence and further improve.

Also, when you’re leading the team day in, day out, let those below you make decisions. If they come to you with a work or career question, ask them what they’d do first to stimulate their thinking.

This will help them grow, build confidence and become future account leaders.

While many things have changed in the past 80-some years, the way you should treat people hasn’t. Even in 10 years, when we’re streaming our space travels on Meerkat 26.0, Carnegie’s fundamental leadership traits will continue to ring true.

Stephanie Vermillion is a senior account executive at Wordsworth Communications, a public relations agency in Cincinnati. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and Twitter (@SMVermillion). A version of this article originally appeared on her blog.

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