Recently I shared 9 Leadership themes for the new year, including this one: be known positively. I’m realizing this particular theme is harder that it seems. But that doesn’t change the fact that you and I are largely responsible for our public perception.
So how can we build positive interactions and relationships with others? Here are nine distinct strategies I’ve picked to focus on.
The positive effects of smiling are so poignant that Dale Carnegie devoted an entire chapter to it in his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People. A smile says, “I’m happy to see you.” Since people prefer to do business with their friends, a simple smile can generate positive energy right from the start.
Value Results AND Relationships
Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller detail this point in depth in their bestseller The Secret. Each of us has a natural tendency to focus on one or the other. The most effective leaders recognize their bias and work hard to compensate. If relationships aren’t a value, we’ll be known abrasively (not positively) since we show up only when we need things done.
I’ll admit this has long been a challenge of mine. I value relationships, but during my work day I often operate with an ongoing project plan in my head. One of my strategies is to make it a priority to interact with my colleagues with no agenda other than to find out how they are doing – instead of only when I need something from them.
Manage by Walking Around
Tom Peters coined this concept in his book In Search of Excellence. It’s not enough to have an open door policy. As a leader, you need to regularly take the pulse of the folks around you. Don’t be the last one to know what is on everyone’s radar.
Anticipating the needs of others is one of the most compelling ways to influence when you’re not in charge. Make an effort to see things from their perspective. Then the information and resources you share will be important to them, not just to you.
Have you ever shared an idea only to have someone else acknowledge it and then proclaim, “…but here’s why it won’t work.” It’s off-putting – and it takes tremendous amounts of discipline not to do it ourselves. In these moments, it doesn’t matter if the idea contradicts the strategy. Find another response. Say, “and” instead of “but.” Or simply say thank you and promise to consider it.
I once heard a speaker declare that sharing your mistakes will actually make you seem more credible rather than less because people often relate more to our mistakes than our successes. Sharing our shortcomings makes us seem more human. And people usually already know our weaknesses so there’s not much use in trying to hide them.
One day a construction worker at a previous employer suffered a severe accident and ended up in the hospital in critical condition. Even though he was incredibly busy, our operations executive got on a plane and traveled from the corporate office to visit the employee and his family. Upon his return, he renewed his already heartfelt message on the importance of safety to the rest of the company.
It’s often easier and more efficient to let someone else take care of things. Other times, we need to show up in person.
Share the Praise
An old proverb states, “A man is tested by the praise he receives.” One of the quickest ways to gain a negative reputation is to hog the credit that comes your way. Express gratitude, but be quick to share.
Say Thank You
In Leadership is an Art, Max de Pree opened with this simple statement: “A leader’s first responsibility is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Neglecting to thank others for their contribution is incredibly offensive and can even be a fatal faux pas. To many people, sincere appreciation is more valuable than currency. Don’t withhold what costs absolutely nothing to give.
None of these points come naturally or easily (at least they haven’t for me). That’s why they’re so important to continue to hone. What I’ve found so far is that good working relationships are worth many more times the effort I put in.