Leaving A Lasting Impression

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. Neil Postman

I’ve always loved this quote by Neil Postman, but also apply it to those we impact by our leadership. I recently received a Linked-In request from someone who had reported to me years ago. He commented that he would always remember the guidance I had given him early in his career and how he has thought of me many times when faced with a difficult personnel challenge. Today he has his doctorate, has written and published several technical books, and is the founder and CEO of a publicly held company.   We could only hope that all of our “children” would be so successful with their lives.

I’m sharing this with you not to brag, but to encourage you to think about the impact you have as a leader each and every day on those around you. Your actions speak so much more loudly than your words.  For example, when giving praise, do you try to always catch people doing something good and thank them for it? And if you do how do you thank them? If you just say “good job,” how are they to know what specifically you thought was good so that they can be sure to do it again next time? Or do you instead say, “good  job with your executive report, it was exactly the right level of detail that I needed, it was also to the point.  I especially appreciated the executive summary up front with the action items spelled out.” Now that is something that they can remember and do again next time.

Something else I learned along the way was to be careful not to give what I call “warm prickly’s.” These are the “yeah but” phrases, you know, we have all heard them, been the recipient of them and, yes, admit it, given them to our staff. They sound something like, “you did a great job with your presentation to senior staff yesterday, but in the future you might want to speak up more loudly….” Or something like that, you get the picture. It’s the big BUT in there that gets you every time. As soon as you say the big BUT the warmth turns into just a prickly feeling. If you must do the BUT save it for tomorrow and give just the warm fuzzy for today. Let your staff bask in the glow of a job well done and save the constructive criticism, no matter how well-intentioned, for another time. I promise you will get better results long-term and have happier more motivated staff.

Now for the really bad thing that I just know we have all done. Even I have fallen prey to this and no matter how excellent a leader you are I’m sure you can remember a time when you have also done it. For graphic effect I call this “the shit sandwich.” Yes, I did put the “s” word in there because let’s face it that is what it is. When you do this it goes something like, “ your  executive report was very well written, the graphics were weak, I really liked the layout of the slides and the level of detail.” If your boss said this to you what would you take away? I’ll bet it would go something like, “oh my gosh I need to polish up my graphic work, I’m so lame, I can’t believe I didn’t do a better job.” Yup, that’s what happens, the shit smells no matter how appetizing the bread is that it sits between.

So before you give praise make sure you phrase it to keep the glow going. Keep the BUT and the shit out. You can save this for a later time as a coaching conversation for do different next times and keep the did wells separated by at least a day.

Every encounter is an opportunity to shape the future. Now that’s an awesome responsibility and I just know you are all up to the challenge.

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One thought on “Leaving A Lasting Impression

  1. As I read today’s blog it brought two thoughts to mind. The first is how rare it is for us to ever see the effect we have on the lives of others. It is cause for contemplation how everything we do and say has some effect on another person. I have always been intrigued by the butterfly effect and how the flapping of a butterfly’s’ wings, representing a small change, is the cause of events leading to large-scale alterations of other events. Something so seemingly insignificant can have such a huge impact.

    This dovetails into my second thought.

    I used to walk with my head down; I always said I was watching where I was going (I don’t think anyone really believed this including myself). I decided one day that I knew where I was going and that I wanted to look up and into the eyes of those passing by. Not just to look, but to smile at them and see what happened. Of course trying this for the first time at an out of town conference, in a large city underground walkway, probably helped the shy side of me have more confidence. It was interesting to see, and feel, the response of those who were on the receiving end of this unexpected, and not so common occurrence. Did you know that when you smile at someone you could actually feel the smile crossing their face after they have passed you? It is so true! Not only can you feel their smile but the smiles of those that they just passed and smiled at. The domino effect, or butterfly effect, or as I like to call it the smile effect is contagious and infectious.

    As you are reading this, you can’t see my face, but I just caught myself smiling about the thoughts of all those people, that originally were just hustling and bustling to get where they were going, now all smiling. Hmmmm, I think I just felt you smile!

    As the author of this blog so aptly stated, every encounter is an opportunity to shape the future. The next opportunity you have, smile at someone you know, or even someone you do not know, and ponder the thought…what difference did that small gesture just make?

    I have appreciated the thoughtful insight provided by this author and have shared them with many of my colleagues.

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