I’m going to go Old School on you in this Leading Thoughts. Let me tell you why.
I’ve recently been involved in some decision-making about young leaders. I wasn’t making the decisions, but I was advising those who did. Older, experienced men and women were determining the career paths of rising young execs. I was fascinated by what I saw.
Let’s assume for the sake of our time together that all these young leaders were equally well-educated, equally experienced and had, as far as anyone could tell, equal potential. This was largely true, I believe. Yet the deciding factor over and over was the young person’s manner. Now, this wasn’t just a matter of older leaders wanting to be respected. This was older leaders realizing that some of these younger folks just didn’t have an engaging way with people. Time and again, this was the margin that made the difference.
I came away from the experience convinced that some Old School wisdom was needed, and not just on the part of junior executives. I’m seeing this need in leaders at every level.
So, may I presume to give some fatherly advice, even though many who read Leading Thoughts are older than I am? I mean “fatherly” in the sense that this is the kind of lore that fathers once taught their sons and daughters. I’m not making that assumption anymore. Here goes:
• When you first meet someone, square your shoulders to them. Look them in the eye. Shake hands firmly but not violently. Say something short and meaningful: “It is good to meet you” or “Thank you for being here.” Don’t break off until they do.
• Remember names. Use every trick in the book. In fact, read a book on remembering names and faces. Use people’s names often but not so often that you sound like an over-eager salesman.
• Refer to older men and women—and people further up the authority ladder than you—as “ma’am” or “sir” and use “Mr” and “Miss/Ms/Mrs” until that other person makes things more casual by saying something like, “Oh, just call me Laura.”
• Dress one click above the norm of people at your level. This doesn’t mean you wear a tux to a picnic. It doesn’t mean you wear a tie on “Casual Friday.” It just means you take it up a notch most of the time. Under-dressing isn’t taken as cool in a business environment. It is taken as a sign of not caring. Trust me on this.
• Sit in meetings like you are interested. Sit up, lean a bit forward, show up with something to take notes on other than your cell phone, and look at the person speaking. Bad vibes in meetings echo loudly in executive decision-making. Trust me on this too.
• Don’t cuss in business meetings. Even if the boss does. I know it is unfair, but I have heard a senior exec say, “That guy’s language is f—king foul. We can’t use him.” Sorry. It’s true. Save your cussing for—well, anyplace else if you absolutely have to cuss.
• Eat your munchies at home. Scratch yourself at home. Adjust your bra in private. Pick your ear and your nose in private. Yawn behind a hand—or a wall. Arrange things under your clothes, you know, somewhere else. Don’t stink. Don’t overdo perfume and cologne. Use deodorant. I know, I know, but this was a factor in a recent hiring decision I witnessed.
• Finally, don’t mumble. Don’t talk like you’re insecure even if you are. Think about what you hope to say before you get to the meeting. Say it firmly. If you mess up, admit it. Laugh about it. It signals that you don’t take yourself too seriously and you’ll learn from your mistakes.
Okay, there’s more, but you get the point. Go forth. Help each other. Leadership roles are out there for the taking. And some folks are missing them because they apparently can’t take a dang shower before an interview. Bugs me.