Real leaders are always 'on.'
A few weeks ago, I attended an event for professional speakers where a well-known presenter 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.
After the session concluded, I walked up to him to say how great his speech was and started to tell him where I was from, when...he totally blew me off. He was so busy getting his marketing materials together that he didn't even make eye contact with me. I was disappointed. Not because I had a need to connect with him on a personal level, but because he wasn’t practicing what he had just taught in his speech. 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, but it's important to stay connected to your audience until you leave the building. Until then, you are still "on" and your audience is still judging you 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’re at the company barbecue, or when you’re at a conference out of town, you have an impact.
Leadership is a practice. We must be mindful of our impact on people at all times. 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 what you do more than what you say. It's not enough to talk about what you want; you must exhibit what you want. 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. Integrity (doing what you say you will do) and authenticity are essential for effective leadership.
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?"
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, and violating that trust can 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 reflecting on your behaviors, both good and bad, and choosing to be better, one moment at a time.
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or firstname.lastname@example.org.