If you are a leader: A CEO, a CMO, a CFO, if you manage employees of any sort, if you coach a baseball team, if you lead a food pantry, whatever it is, I have some news for you: Everyone is watching your every move. That might disturb you a bit. Actually, it should disturb you a bit. They are watching your facial expressions when you stroll in on Monday morning, they are watching how you talk to your spouse and kids, they are watching how you dress and what you eat, they are watching how you handle difficult employees and situations. They want to know if you can be trusted, if you are capable of doing the job, if you are someone to aspire being like. This is FACT. Let me tell you a story about my own path as a leader.
I got promoted really fast in corporate America. I was asked to lead people about 6 months into an entry level position, usually out in the middle of nowhere at clients’ facilities, and I managed not to screw it up. This gave me more opportunities to do important things early in my career. And the ball kept rolling toward promotions. When I made partner in a big 4 accounting firm, I got transferred three times to different markets to make hay. My third market proved especially difficult, not because of the actual outside market, but because of the inside culture. It was nasty competitive, infighting was considered normal, and politics were HUGE. I was not enjoying myself anymore. I was stressed. The environment made it much more difficult for me to be as successful as I was used to being. Being the gregarious, friendly, open person that I typically am, it was obvious something was wrong when I was quiet and withdrawn in meetings. The inconsistency of my demeanor made it difficult for people who didn’t know me well to read me and know what to expect. It sounds minor, but it wasn’t. People started to wonder what might be wrong with me, even though I never took it out on anyone else, even though I never slowed down, even though I still led a team of 50-100 people every day and we got a ton done.
My point here is that I needed to be a lot more cognizant of how I was showing up as a leader every day. When you lead, consistency is king. This will sound tough, but you can’t have a bad day as a leader, the price is too high. You have to leave all that baggage outside the door. Otherwise, all the work you do to be a great leader will be for naught, and you will struggle to create the high performance teams you need for grow your company or create significance that lasts. Here are a few pointers to make it a little more obvious:
Nobody cares about your personal problems if you are a leader.
Yes, they say they care. Yes, they may even act like they care. But bringing your problems to work when you are a leader does a couple of things. It indicates you cannot handle your personal problems. And it indicates that it’s perfectly fine for everyone else to come to work and hash out their personal problems too. You can make people aware that there is stuff to be handled, but that you are handling it. Do not seek out shoulders to cry on at work. That is what family, friends, lawyers, accountants, and therapists are for. If you cannot handle your problems, how can you expect others to do the same? How can you inspire them to create solutions for themselves? You have to figure it out and do some compartmentalization, especially because you expect your team to do the same.
Know that nobody is going to care more than you do.
You’re the leader. You want it badly or you wouldn’t be the leader. Being the leader means you sacrifice more than anyone else does to make it happen. And you don’t complain to them about it, because they EXPECT you to be the one who cares most. Your job is to make them care enough to do what you want them to do. I vote for carrots and not sticks. Complaining about how you work too hard, do too much, or that you are tired of picking up their slack really only makes you look like a terrible leader. Do it differently.
Be aware of all the little things that are communicating for you.
Your facial expressions, your voice, your sighs, your grunts, ALL of it! This part is really hard, because we are all human. I’m not asking you to be an automaton. But what I AM saying is that all those little things about how you are showing up every day are telling a story about you as a leader, and they all matter. I may be a little manic on this point, because it happens to be what I do for a living, but I think strategically about nearly every interaction I have with other humans. I ask myself what I want to accomplish, how I want to represent myself and my position, and how I want the person to feel and act when I am done. Some people would call this mindfulness, so if you are so inclined, call it that. I also think about how each interaction went after the fact, and how I could have done better. This includes EVERY interaction: live, by telephone, through email, even text. It becomes second nature, so don’t worry that it’s way too much brain space to do this.
Once you have mastered how you are showing up, it will have the added bonus of giving you a ton more credibility when you counsel members of your team about how they are showing up. When you begin to outline expectations and a certain, clear and abiding culture, the team will rise up to meet you. And that is how unprecedented success is really born. You are the first tool in creating it, the common denominator. As cliché as it is, it really does ALL start with you.