I tell you often that Leading Thoughts is about the soft factors in leadership because the soft factors are so often what lead to success or failure. Let me offer an example I hope you never forget.

I was with some executives recently who were talking about promoting a man we’ll call Sean. Everyone liked Sean. He’s gone to some stellar schools, he knows his stuff, and he’s produced well thus far. I was staying silent. I was merely consulting in this and I didn’t know Sean. Everyone else did and seemed ready to promote him.

Then it happened. One of the execs reminded everyone of what Sean is like on the phone. Whether on Zoom or on a phone call, Sean apparently has the presence of a gorilla. He’s always making noise, always seems distracted, and is ever conversing with people not on the call. He doesn’t seem to know where the mute button is. He also has a habit of being on these calls while in odd places—cigar bars, restaurants, the gym, in the car and apparently once while on a date.

In a matter of minutes, Ivy league-trained, high-performing Sean was passed over for a life-changing promotion and largely because his future job involved a lot of phone and video conference time and no one thought he would do it well. I asked if anyone had ever talked to Sean about being phone-challenged. No one had. No one would. Another person got the job.

I tell this tale to scare you a bit. The fact is that our post-Covid-19 business culture is going to be more dependent on video conferencing and phone calls than ever. As important, the microphones we now have in cell phones and Airpods and such are stunningly sensitive. This creates glorious possibilities. It also creates opportunities for disaster. So it is essential that you analyze your own manner on the phone and in conference calls and that you create a culture of digital conference excellence in your firm.

Some brief thoughts for you:

  • When you are on a call, be on the call. Don’t do dishes. Don’t make coffee. Don’t sort drawers. We hear it all amplified. Just be on the call. It will serve you well. It also shows respect for everyone’s time.
  • Address bad habits immediately when on a call. I have often said, “Hey, I’m hearing some tapping that is really distracting. Can we stop that, please?” This teaches people what is expected and gives them confidence that calls will be “policed,” at least when I’m involved.
  • Set high expectations for the video “look” of each member of your team. The lighting. The background. The angles. You know the drill. I did a video conference recently and realized that one woman was doing the call from her bedroom and that I was looking at bras and panties—or maybe a bikini—hanging on the wall behind her. Not what you want, believe me. Send out guide sheets and videos to train folks in this art. Give clear feedback.
  • Make digital conference performance part of required skill lists and performance reviews. In other words, make it part of your culture.

This all sounds so simple. And it is. But the neglect of it is costing production, promotion, and progress. The season now upon us won’t allow us to do this badly and thrive.