As a leader, you’re always being watched. People look to you to set the pace, the tempo, the mood and the energy. They take their lead from you, how you are and how you present. There is absolutely no getting away from it.
People will copy your language, your behaviours, your routine and even how you dress. And no matter how ridiculous you might feel that is, it is all part of social norming and human behaviour. Which is why it is critically important to be thoughtful and aware of the impact that you have.
Small, seemingly inconsequential behaviours can have a significant effect when they’re replicated on mass and become part of the cultural norm. As a simple example, let’s take emailing at weekends. If you’re a leader that emails regularly and systematically at weekends, you’ll maybe find that people start to check their emails to see what you’ve said and what you want.
“Hey Jo, No big deal but can you have a look at the latest figures for me on Monday. Neil “
“Sam, Neil needs the figures urgently on Monday, can you get ahead of the game? Jo”
“Jack, I need the latest figures first thing Monday for Neil. Sam”
Imagine that happening all over the organisation and the impact that it would start to have. And of course it is limited to this one example.
As a leader you need to be intentional about your actions and behaviour, you need to recognise that you’re not only making choices for yourself, but for others too. How you show up, how you are, the light and shade that you bring to a situation will be absorbed and multiplied. Being aware of your impact on others can help you get the most out of your team and the people around you, it can also help you make sure that they get the most out of you.
As a leader you won’t always get thing right. Because no matter which business school you went to, or how amazing people say you are, you’re still human. And when things go wrong, when you screw things up, when you make a mess, it is absolutely ok to say sorry.
Rather than being a weakness, apologising is both a strength and a means of asserting control. It demonstrates recognition and understanding of the situation and a desire to move on and progress.
The number of times I’ve heard teams, or employees complain along the lines of, “they know they’ve screwed up, but they’ve never even said sorry. That is all it would take”. Most people can accept that leaders get things wrong, they can’t accept that they’re too big to need to apologise.
That’s not to say that simply muttering the word, “sorry” can get you out of any situation, there is an authenticity and humility that needs to comes with it. We’re great at sniffing out a contrived response.
Recognising when you’ve fallen short, acknowledging, apologising and rectifying are critical steps in building real trust with the people who you lead. They’re also hugely important in your development and personal growth.
We talk a lot about engagement levels, happiness at work, productivity and health and wellbeing. Whilst I have no empirical evidence to back it up, I can’t help feeling that humble, respectful leadership would be a vital ingredient to success.
We all know that how you show up in a certain situation or moment can change the impact that you have and the outcomes that you achieve. No more so than when you hold a leadership position.
My advice to leaders is always to think as much about how they are as what they are doing or saying. The impact of presence and state convey more than words, actions or intent will ever do.
Think of the manager, arms full of papers rushing from one meeting to next past their team who are up to their necks in work. Or the conversation when they’re “listening”, but there’s no-one home behind the eyes.
Our ability to control our state and to be present in the moment when people around us most need us is critical to being truly successful and effective as a leader. Using emotion effectively rather than letting it leak and making the moment more about us than others.
Of course, everyone is human and there will always be moments when we are down, distracted, angry or even simply unhappy. But there is a big difference from “having a moment”, to having a permanent state where we make ourselves the central point around which the emotional state of others should gravitate.
Making a conscious decision to be selfless in action is one of the biggest leadership skills and the higher up the organisation, the more self-control, discipline and focus is required. The closer to the sun you get, the larger shadow you cast. Each of us in our role as leaders would be well served to take a little more time to focus on our presence and state.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and state my belief that the world broadly splits into two groups of people:
- Those that always believe someone else should carry the can
- Those that always believe they’re ultimately responsible.
In our rational minds we know that neither of these assertions is correct, some things we’re responsible for, others not so much.
In my work and my life I’ve met a lot of the first group and they drive me to despair. As an individual that believes most of the tragedies in the world are somehow connected to a bad decision I’ve made in the past, I don’t understand them at all. I don’t understand their footloose and fancy free approach to life, I don’t respect their unwillingness to share the burden and I dislike their lack of thoughtfulness.
In every single context I would rather hire, collaborate with, work with or live with the person that shares my constant assessment of responsibility. I love people who have lists, who wake up with a million things that they feel guilty about not doing, that fret and worry about not fulfilling their very best. Those that feel the responsibility of their existence on their shoulders.
I admit I’m biased, I’m not trying to hide that or to shy away from my personal preference and style. In a world where too often, too many are quick to point the finger at others, are unwilling to accept the responsibility of office, of stature and of simple existence, I’m proud of this particular bias.
It is, absolutely, all about responsibility. Every step, every action, every thought we have on this mortal coil has an impact. So let’s not shy away from that and accept the natural state. By doing so we shift our energy into conscious action and effort and through that we can start to make positive change.
Rather than just exist in our perfect mind.