A few weeks ago I attended an event for professional speakers where a well-known keynote speaker shared ways to create connection with your audience. During his speech, he mentioned the town in upstate New York where he grew up. He grew up only 15 minutes from my hometown, so I was excited to talk with him afterwards. He certainly created a connection with me in that moment. We had something in common.
His speech was excellent, and after he walked off stage and the meeting organizer concluded the meeting, I walked up to him and told him how great his speech was and started to tell him where I was from in New York, when…he totally blew me off. He was so busy getting his marketing materials together to put at the back of the room, that he didn’t even make eye contact with me and barely listened to what I had to say as he rushed off. I was disappointed. Not because I had this need to connect with him on a personal level, but because many of the things he had just taught in his speech he was not practicing. I thought the content of his speech was excellent, but the feeling I got from him afterward totally turned me off.
In the speaking industry, there’s an unwritten rule that your speech is not really over when you leave the stage. You may have finished the content of your speech, but it’s important to stay connected to your audience until you leave the building. Even when you are not on stage, you are still “on” and your audience is still judging you (for better or worse) based on your interactions.
The same is true for leadership. As a leader, people observe your actions, even in the small moments that may not seem to matter. Leadership is a behavior, not a role. Everything you do has impact. Even when you are working late and only one person is in the office with you, or when you are at the company barbecue, or when you are at a conference out of town, you are having an impact. Just like a speaker isn’t finished when he walks off the stage, you don’t leave your leadership role at the office when you go home at night.
Leadership is a practice. We must be mindful that we have an impact on people at all times. Now, I am not saying you need to be perfect. In fact, showing your imperfections allows people to see you for who you are–a human being. People don’t want their leaders to be perfect, they want them to be authentic. You model great leadership by having high standards for yourself, and persevering through your challenges and struggles.
Employees follow more of what you do than what you say. That’s why leading yourself is the first step in leading others. If you want your managers to coach their employees, make sure you are coaching your managers. If you want people to show up on time to meetings, make sure you are showing up on time.
My husband, Rino, and I were talking several months ago about the characteristics and disciplines we want to cultivate in our three young children. The usual qualities like compassion, generosity, kindness, and confidence made the list. When discussing what habits to instill, Rino said he would like to teach our six year old daughter, Olivia, to make her bed every morning. He feels that making your bed is a small accomplishment each morning that sets the day up for success. That making the bed is taking pride in your environment.
“I agree,” I said, “but shouldn’t we start making our bed every morning first?”
People don’t model what you say, they model what you do. It’s not enough to talk about what you want, you must exhibit what you want. Mastering integrity (doing what you say you will do) and authenticity (consistently showing up as yourself) are essential for effective leadership.
The small things we do every day can either create trust and strengthen relationships, or chip away at trust and damage relationships. The trust you build can strengthen your integrity and credibility, or damage your integrity and credibility.
If you want to change your corporate culture, start by changing yourself. Cultures don’t change, people do. Cultures don’t transform, people transform.
You go first.
When you model accountability, others will follow. You will create the momentum to get extraordinary results.
As for me, I’ve started making my bed every morning. Parenting has been my most challenging job to date. It’s not a role I play where I can pick and choose what actions my children should model. They see all of me, the good moments and the bad moments, the good traits and the bad traits. Parenting has forced me to look in the mirror and be more deliberate about my actions.
In parenting and in leadership, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being deliberate. Reflecting on your behaviors, both good and bad, and choosing to be better, one moment at a time.