The 7 Elements of Surprise

leadership skillsWant to help a customer or client feel appreciated? Seeking to recognize someone on your staff? Want to show your spouse how much you love them? There’s one thing exceptional leaders have up their sleeve to do all of these: They can pull off a good surprise.

I love springing a good surprise. Whether proposing to my wife, throwing a party for a coworker, or just making someone’s day, I try to work the following into all my suprises:

1. Listening. It all starts here. Always have your antennae out. People unwittingly drop hints all the time about what they want, need, or like. Store this information away. Also, gauge receptivity—would something small and private work best or would they prefer something more public?

2. Patience. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to act. Don’t give in or give up on a surprise just because it’s convenient. Bide your time. Generally, surprises are like wine, the longer you take to plan them, the more impressive they are. (Having said that, don’t wait too long!)

3. Assistance. The more people involved, the better a surprise can be. However, the more people involved, the greater chance you have of someone slipping. It only takes one careless word to tip off your target. Only bring on people you need who can keep a secret.

4. Unpredictability.  Surprising people on holidays or special days is nice, but popping a big one on an average, run-of-the-mill Tuesday can be epic. I love to catch people with their head buried in the everyday and startle them with how valuable and cherished they really are.

5. Preparation. Surprises don’t have to cost much. It’s the time and planning that’s appreciated—and that’s what makes others feel appreciated as well. Part of the joy of a surprise is the realization that other people are thinking about you when you’re not around. Who doesn’t like that?

6. Deception. Warning: Only attempt this to the extent that you (and whoever else is involved) can pull it off. The point here is to throw off your intended target. Lead them to believe it’s business as usual. The equation is simple: The bigger the deception, the bigger the surprise.

7. Mass. Pile on the surprises. Just after you’ve surprised someone and their shock has faded into a relaxed smile…is the perfect time to spring another surprise! It takes planning and coordination, but you get an exponential reward.

What’s the best surprise you’ve ever been a part of?

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