Leadership is a tough gig. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it. There is so much at stake in being a leader. Your daily decisions are under continual scrutiny. In an SME your team are always looking to you. In a public company it’s not just your team but also your peers, the board and even shareholders. Decisions you make go under the microscope, especially bold ones that might change the way the business works or takes it into a new exciting direction.
One thing a lot of leaders forget, or sometimes become complacent about is how what they say can really impact others. As a leader our words can really resonate with our team, both positively and negatively.
There is a famous quote by Maya Angelou,
“People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they will always remember how you make them feel.”
This is very true, however, I believe that in certain instances people do definitely remember WHAT you say, especially from the people they admire, like a great leader, which will obviously affect how they feel.
We’ve all been there, one of our leaders, someone we truly respect will make a throw away, off the cuff comment that hits us like a brick and cuts to the bone. We might spend days analysing it, wondering where it came from, thinking could we have done anything different to prevent such a negative comment. However, the leader who made the comment, may have just made an off the cuff statement or observation and not really thought anything of it! This is why, as leaders we need to be very aware of what we say.
Every leader I have ever had has done this at one point in time. Disappointingly, even myself as a leader, have unknowingly done it. In my case I’m sure I have done it more than a few occasions but unless it is flagged we don’t actually know. I was made aware of one such incident some 2 years after the event. It was over a Friday night team drink and we were talking about leadership. One of my team said, “Remember that time you told me you had someone who had worked for you who was amazing and never made mistakes?” They said they felt this one line had diminished our working relationship a little as they saw it as comparison to their own skills and a threat they didn’t live up to this previous persons skillset! I could not actually recall the discussion at all! They said they had ran the conversation over and over again in their head, analysed why I’d said it and said it affected them for weeks. I was obviously mortified. In my mind, I could not remember a thing about the conversation, it was without a doubt a throw away comment and I had not meant anything by it. I have now been working with this person for 4 years and they are brilliant at what they do. Obviously I was very disappointed, devastated actually, that my comment had had such a negative effect. Like everything with leadership, it needs to be put down to experience and a lesson learnt so it never happens again.
So what’s my message in this short blog? As leaders we need to always be aware of the way we communicate. What we say and how we say it is critical to inspiring our team and driving performance. It can be tough, but remember you are always under the microscope, and a lot of the people we work with are looking to us for inspiration, guidance and true leadership. So think before you speak, a silent pause is not weakness, its reflection and stop a load of verbal diarrhoea coming out. It’s so important to always communicate appropriately and give the right advice. Remember the way we act, talk and communicate reflects on us every minute of every day and our team and colleagues may be remember the message for a very very long time, good and bad.