It can be a strain to be aware of your actions 24/7 but as a leader it is critical. You leave an impression every time you interact with anyone, and if you are a busy person you may be leaving the impression in a few seconds.
Think about when you enter a meeting room, realize you are in the wrong room and leave. What did you say? Did you come across as simply having read the wrong room on your calendar, or as a disorganized ditz.
How about when you have just given a talk and there is a line of people waiting to talk with you, but you are tired? Do you take the time, despite your fatigue, to greet every person, listen to their question and thoughtfully answer, or do you say “sorry, have to get to my next thing” and leave?
Or you visit a site in China, or India, and you are horribly jet lagged but to the employees who you are meeting with your visit is a big deal. Do you let on that you are struggling with jet lag and whine a bit or sit up straight and force yourself to be charming and attentive to them?
Then there are the times you go out with sales people to celebrate a big win or mourn a loss. Do you relax and have a few too many drinks because you are with the lads, or do you keep a watch on your own imbibing so as to not make a mistake and say something you’ll regret.
There are thousands of such moments when you need to chose how to behave and, as a leader, I believe you always need to keep the impression you leave at the front of your mind. For you the encounter may be minor and forgetful but for the people you are meeting with – employees, customers, peers, shareholders – it may stick with them for years, especially if you let them down or disappoint them in some way.
The more people who work for you, the more important every small interaction is because your time gets sliced thinner and thinner. When you have more than 20,000 people working for you, which you may do one day, every moment leaves an impression as the CEOs of the big companies are very aware.
I’ve watched dear friends in powerful positions struggle with this. The stock takes a precipitous tumble on one day and it can be hard not to lash out and be negative to the people around you. The company misses its number and it can be hard for the head of sales not to get drunk with his boys. I’ve fought hard not to be negative when grossly over tired and had to lecture myself in the ladies room mirror to stay positive. We are all human and being self aware and conscious of the impression you are leaving with the people around you is serious work.
But if you want to be a leader it is critically important. You never know who is watching (particularly important if you are CEO of a public company). You never know what is really going on in the lives of the people you are working with and how much they may be needing you to lift them up that day. You cannot know how you may change their career choices with a few thoughtful moments.
So pay attention! I wish I had more than I did.
Photo: A pigeon hogging a Venetian water fountain © 2019 Penny Herscher