People learn through observing others – how they act, how they react, how they make others feel. They do it so they can work out how to be successful, or to survive. They do it so they can emulate them, or avoid their mistakes.
When we are leaders, it means they are observing us and making judgments about whether to be like us, or not.
As a business leader, your actions can have a profound effect on your business. Not only does it set the tone for your company culture but it shapes how you and your business are viewed by potential customers and partners.
You therefore need to ask yourself, ‘What can I do to be the kind of person that people want to emulate and do business with?’
A few months ago, I asked this of a group of 100 workshop participants;
“Tell each other a story about someone who has inspired you, someone that you think is a supportive leader.”
They all chatted away and after a while I asked them to share some of the stories with the larger group.
An influential role model
The first person spoke up and spoke of a gentleman in that organisation called John, about how he had been encouraged by him. Then another member of the group stood up next, saying “My story is about John too!”
We heard another story about John, about how humble and encouraging he was. This led to two more stories from other members of the audience, also about this one person. This guy was a clearly role model to pay attention to, and he was alive in their stories.
So, what can we do to be the kind of person that people want to emulate and do business with?
Firstly, we need to focus on what people are taking away from how we act and react. If we claim to be courteous and considerate, but we are only that way when we are speaking with people in positions of power, then people will notice.
Take a look at Barack Obama – there’s lot of footage of him that has picked up his behaviour with people that do not have the power to give him anything that he wants to achieve. But those people, and those around them, will remember his courtesy – who knows who might be inspired by that behaviour.
Staying calm and constructive under pressure
What happens when we are under pressure? People will want to know if we are as pleasant to deal with when times are hard as we are in the happy times.
It is easy to have a positive relationship when there is no pressure. But if we don’t regulate our emotions when things are tricky, then we risk alienating them – even if we get what we want in the short term, the long term relationship can be destroyed.
I deal with all sorts of people in my work, but there are one or two of them who I know will be calm, thoughtful and constructively challenging, no matter what the circumstances. They are the ones I call when I have a tricky situation to deal with!
Celebrating and sharing success
What are we like when we are winning? Do the people we work with feel like they are winning too?
I worked with someone recently who had had a big success at work. I knew she would have been part of a larger group making things happen, but the only information I could see her sharing was about what she herself had achieved.
I saw another leader in the same organisation attributing his success to the work of the group they were part of, and getting them to share what they had done to contribute.
In both cases, people are learning about where the credit for success goes, and where loyalty and hard work will (or won’t) take you.
Transmitting a positive energy and attitude
The fabulous American poet and author, Maya Angelou said that “people will never forget how you made them feel.”
This is particularly true when we are working with others. We quickly forget the conversations held, the meetings led and the questions answered – but people will remember what it felt like to work with us, to rely on us.
I remember being part of a team once when things weren’t going well. I was too focused on the problems and not on the people, and that feeling transmitted itself to the group.
Fortunately, someone put up a mirror up to me and showed me that my team’s culture was deeply influenced by how I behaved. From that point on, we made sure we included time for the positives and celebrated the successes, no matter what the challenges were.
It was remarkable how much lighter the mood was and how much more energised we all were to deal with the challenges.
What kind of character would you be portrayed as?
People have always used stories and fairy tales as a way to guide to how we should be. In our business relationships, we become characters in the stories that our people tell, and those stories are being written and rewritten as we act, react and engage with others.
We can all think of people that we want to emulate, and can think of the horror stories of when things when wrong with people who were important to us.
When we pay attention to how we are relating to others, and how others behave, we have both role models to emulate and cautionary situations to learn to avoid.
As role models, our behaviour and how we make others feel is what will determine the kind of character they make us into their stories.
Will we be the evil stepmother coming in and making everything worse? Will we be the nasty rogue, making decisions out of self-interest and cheating others out of what they feel they deserve?
Perhaps we will be the wise prince, sharing wisdom benevolently, or the fairy godmother, providing support and encouragement when it matters the most?
If we pay attention to the stories that are being crafted around us, we can be helping people we haven’t even met, long after we have moved on.
About the author
This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Jean Gamester. Jean is founder and director of consulting business, Semaphora, where she delivers change programmes and helps organisations to make change happen. She is also a volunteer leader with Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. Jean is a regular contributor to ByteStart, and her other articles include;
- Simple stories, super results for startups
- How a little negative thinking can help your startup succeed
- Why being a good customer could drive your startup’s future success
- How to keep your head and cope with change in your business
- How coaching can help you to inspire your team and ensure employees fulfil their potential