You’re Making a Lasting Impression
Three Ways to Make it a Good One
A recent student in one of my virtual classes for leaders in a large government agency relayed a story that stopped me dead in my tracks. He explained how, as a junior manager in his first position out of university, he participated in a weekly staff meeting—and how in the space of one of those meetings his view of leadership was both shaken and shaped for the next 15 years.
He described how the entire staff had dutifully gathered. All were prepared, but the boss was a no-show. Not knowing exactly what to do, everyone waited nervously in near silence. After nearly 40 minutes, the second-in-command started the meeting and led everyone through the agenda. Over an hour later and just as the meeting was breaking up, the big boss burst through the door and told everyone to sit down—as if he had something profound to share.
“Nice try,” he said. “We’ll call that a rehearsal. Now, let’s do it all again for real.”
When several people tried to tactfully explain that they had other commitments, the senior leader responded that this was a carefully orchestrated teaching moment about how his time was far more valuable than theirs. Nearly 5 hours after the meeting’s scheduled start, the group walked out of the conference room dejected, demoralized and disengaged. Within weeks, three of the people in the infamous meeting had resigned in search of a less toxic environment.
The class and I sat in stunned silence. The speaker had made a compelling point about the impact of poor leadership on morale and retention. But the obvious question had not yet been asked. Why had the storyteller stayed?
His response: “Because somebody has to make it better.”
While I was appalled at the bad behavior of the senior leader all those years ago, I respected the clarity and resolve of my student. Indeed, somebody has to make it better—and that somebody is you…and me. I was also struck by how the impression made by this toxic leader had stood the test of time—and will likely live on in infamy for years to come.
How can those of us who want to make it better most effectively do so? In other words, how can managers make positive impressions on people that serve as catalysts for greater productivity, higher-engagement, and retention? Here are three simple ways to make a good impression on your team:
Aretha taught us how to spell it, but our parents taught us how to show it. Respect means that we have an appropriate regard for other people’s time, values, traditions, and feelings. Everyone deserves it and when they don’t get it, there is often a negative response—sometimes time delayed, but a response, nonetheless. Need a practical example? Start and stop meetings on schedule.
Much has written about authentic leadership. But my point today is much simpler: nobody’s perfect, so don’t try to come across as if you are. It doesn’t mean that you need to lower the bar, but it does mean that you shouldn’t raise the bar so high that none can reach it.
Appreciate the contributions of others
English mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, rightly noted, “No one who achieves success does so without the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.” The easiest and most powerful thing a manager can do each day is to express appreciation for the work of others on the team.
Unless you’re a psychopath boss (research suggests that up to ten percent of managers across companies have a tendency to be callous, cold, and unconcerned about the repercussions of abusive behavior), then these suggestions may seem like common sense. Nevertheless, they serve as healthy reminders for those of us who don’t want to be the subject of negative stories now or in the distant future.
Dr. Mike Patterson is an author, speaker, and master facilitator who helps leaders and teams communicate, collaborate, and manage conflict more effectively. He is the co-author of the highly acclaimed book, Have a Nice Conflict: How to Find Success and Satisfaction in the Most Unlikely Places, and he teaches in the doctoral programs at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology and California Baptist University.
© 2021 Michael L. Patterson, Ed.D.