Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.
– Napoleon Hill
I eat at good restaurants. I enjoy healthy food and am happy to pay for quality. It’s a disappointment when a restaurant serves quality food and then provides bad water to drink, really skimpy napkins…and the worst of all…BAD coffee! The image I have from the branding and promotion from the restaurant, is one of quality – or I wouldn’t have gone there in the first place. There’s an inconsistency in the message. The brand image and the brand delivery don’t connect.
A leader is a person of influence. In some sense, we are our own brand image. We represent our vision and mission and influence people who support that vision and mission. Sometimes we create a negative influence inadvertently. Our brand image is ourselves and we must deliver on the brand promise. We set the stage for others to perform, and define the culture by our actions.
We can be a positive influence and we can create negative effects. It’s our leadership choice.
Negative Influencers for Leaders:
- Unprofessional Bragging – In her book, “The Search for Fulfillment,” Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D.,* a Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, points out that there are positive and negative sides of bragging. She makes a case for claiming our successes as being fine, but that excessive conversation about ourselves and our achievements is related to the concept of narcissism. Basically, if all you talk about is yourself, you end up turning people off. If others feel that you not interested in them and only interested in yourself, then no matter how much you brag, nobody will care. As Stephen Covey stated, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” in habit 5 in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
- Unprofessional Conduct – Bad language, anger, demeaning others, are all personal choices. You can use profanity with some groups, however, in a leadership context, there is a price to pay with your position of influence. One praise is equal to many (some say 37) negative comments. The power of how we use language is strong. Showing anger may damage a fragile relationship. Being anxious spreads to everyone in the culture instantly. Show that you care and act like you care. It’s contagious.
- Unprofessional Image – So you have jeans and that old comfortable shirt and those shoes that look like they have been through several world wars. Great. Wear them when nobody sees you. A professional is always a professional. You might think that you can dress however you choose. You get to set that bar. It is important to look professional. Get an image specialist to evaluate your style, color, and type of clothing. Not only will you notice that people treat you differently, but you will feel a difference as well. Whan I fly on trips, I always dress in business casual attire with a sports coat. I have noticed that the airline personnel act differently toward me with my requests. I also must be polite, but combine that with looking professional…hmmm, it works more often than not.
- Negative Attitude – Leaders define the culture. We define how we influence others. Often, leaders complain of employees with a negative attitude. My response is a question, “How are you contributing to the situation?” There are two things that I am looking to discover: 1) If the leader is inadvertently sending a message with their own apparent attitude (sometimes being serious and thinking deeply can be misinterpreted), or 2) If the leader is ignoring the first signs of inappropriate conduct (attitude) and not responding to it directly. It’s important to ask for a desired result and to talk about the facts – the words, the behaviors, the expressions, etc. Talk about what you see and not about what someone else has reported. Use “I” language. It’s important to refrain from using “you” because it sets up a negative context for the conversation. Be aware of what attitude you might be transmitting. Perceptions have more meaning often than reality.
- Negative Companions – Like attracts like. James Allen stated in his book, “As A Man Thinketh,” “The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state…Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.” Have you ever noticed that negative people congregate together and are happy with their negativism? W. Clement Stone, the Napoleon Hill champion said, “Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.”
Being the best leader possible means being self-aware. Constantly work on relationships and work on managing self. After all, you ARE the leader.
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Hugh Ballou The Transformational Leadership Strategist