These perspectives are intended to share career insights and advice based on my personal experiences as a successful entrepreneur, business owner, and CEO – with the ultimate purpose of helping you effectively navigate your own career journey. Do you have a question or is there a topic you would like to see featured in the newsletter? Send me a message here.
Business lessons can come when least expected. During a recent road trip, I stopped at a restaurant for lunch. As I arrived at my table, two women sat down a few feet from me. Both were professionally dressed and appeared to be meeting for the first time. With empty tables around us, I could clearly hear their conversation. I admit I was eavesdropping.
It quickly became apparent that this was an interview for a managerial position with a retail company. The interview started off with the usual pleasantries, a sharing of both career and personal information. But as it progressed into determining qualifications and fit for the job, I observed the one flaw many managers often make while interviewing candidates.
The interviewer would not stop talking. So much so, she rarely allowed the interviewee to talk.
Interviewing someone can be difficult. You only have a brief period of time to determine if the person is right for the job. Often, the inclination of an interviewer is to talk, describe the job and the skill set required, and in turn, hope to engage the interviewee in responding. But the time should be spent learning as much as possible about the potential hire, which can only happen through listening.
The best course of action for an interviewer is to arrive with a list of questions, then stick to asking those questions. Most importantly, listen diligently to how the interviewee answers, and then ask them to follow up on their answers with more explanation. Give them every opportunity to talk, even to the point of using silence if necessary.
It’s amazing what you can learn about a job candidate if you allow them to talk. But to do so, you must make sure you’re not doing all the talking.
One of the most important lessons every executive must learn is to never underestimate the impact of their words and actions on their employees.
I was listening to a podcast recently where the guest was a famous celebrity. He spoke about how he learned a valuable lesson many years ago. When fans started recognizing him in public and would approach to ask for a picture or autograph, he found that he could respond two different ways – each response producing a different result. He could interact graciously and with kindness. In turn, that fan would feel special, and be left with excitement and a positive experience. Or, he could respond with indignation, leaving the fanto believe they had violated his space, or had been an annoyance. This approach elicited feelings ranging from sadness to anger, with the fan likely regretting the encounter.
This celebrity learned he was solely responsible – through his response, actions and words – for creating either a positive experience ora negative experience with those who admired or respected him.
Executives have a similar power to influence encounters, provided by their position within an organization. How they communicate with others or respond to situations will set the tone within an organization. More importantly, how executives respond to employee interactions will determine how well these individuals perform their jobs, treat others, or and even their decision to remain with the company or seek other employment.
I recall instances where I have had a brief conversation with an employee, and later learned that my comments or actions were not well received. In almost every instance, I came to understand my comments were lacking or my attitude was not at its best. Maybe I considered a question to be silly, I had more pressing matters to consider, or simply heard something that left me questioning the intent of a comment. Regardless, my response is what was remembered and that left a lasting impression on the person.
Being the boss comes with a number of responsibilities and expectations. This includes always being conscious of how your actions and comments may be interpreted by others within the company. The individual who can be like the celebrity and use every interaction to make those around them feel both special and heard, will find themselves moving from being “the boss” to becoming a true leader within their organization.
Twenty-five years ago, I was a mid-level manager working on a project for a key customer, a large company with thousands of employees. Because of the uniqueness and importance of the project, the client’s CEO was involved, and he and I would meet on a monthly basis.
One day, the CEO left a voicemail on my office phone (this was before the prevalence of cell phones). He wanted to discuss a particular issue and a couple of ideas. I received the message late in the day and still had a number of pressing tasks I wanted to get done. I finally returned the CEO’s call the following afternoon.
His first comment to me was, “I always expect you to return my calls on the same day. Make sure this doesn’t happen again.” At first, I was taken aback. “Arrogant” was the word that immediately came to mind. But he was the client, and furthermore, the CEO of the client’s company; therefore, I made sure it never happened again.
Now, many years later, I understand the lesson. This wasn’t a CEO looking to set himself on a pedestal. He was teaching me the importance of responsiveness.
Lack of responsiveness is the silent business killer. It kills potential opportunities. It kills business relationships. It kills trust and dependability. But often we don’t realize it until it’s all over. When we do not respond effectively and timely, the other person simply moves on. Sadly, we don’t understand why they no longer respond to our calls.
That CEO and I ultimately worked on a number of other projects. We developed a close working relationship until he retired. One of the positive traits he often noted about me and my team – and one of the reasons he continued to work with us – was our high level of responsiveness.
When you make a mistake that can impact the company, it’s no longer about you and your career. It’s solely about the impact that mistake can have upon the company. The worst thing you can do in that situation is keep it to yourself, try to fix it on your own, and wait to tell others when greater damage has potentially been done.
The sooner the mistake can be addressed and resolved, the less impact it will have on the company. I once heard a business leader tell a young professional that when they make a mistake, it’s their (the young professional’s) responsibility to fix it. My immediate thought was that’s poor advice. Instead, their first course of action should be to make it known to management, then bring solutions to the table.
As a seasoned CEO, I have witnessed a lot of mistakes. Most mistakes made by young managers are not new to me; there’s even a good chance I have made many of the same mistakes in the past. Furthermore, I probably already know the best plan of action to remedy the problem.
Making mistakes is expected and acceptable. However, not immediately notifying your boss or team leader of the mistake is not.
I moved eight times in the first 10 years of my professional career, always at the request of my employer. When I was a project manager, I made a point to accept the difficult projects others stayed away from.
And now, at my own company, when a client requests a service that we don't typically offer, we educate ourselves and then find a way to provide that service. Why? Because I understand the value of being flexible.
Every CEO, even those who have worked for the same company their entire careers, can attest to experiencing many personal or professional changes. They have held multiple roles, managed unique and challenging assignments, adjusted to new policies or processes, responded to market changes, moved to new cities, and taken on new responsibilities. What all these leaders have in common is the ability to successfully maneuver through change. They also know they must remain flexible.
Rarely has a company or an individual ever been successful by doing the same thing over and over again for many years. Change is crucial for long-term success. Yet for any change to be successful, flexibility is required.
When I am assembling a management team, I seek a mixture of personalities and a combination of diverse skill sets and talents. I look for attitudes of both optimism and pessimism within the team. I want my ideas and opinions to be challenged, and invite discourse and discussion. But I also expect my team to be flexible, and to be willing to adapt and transform to accomplish our goals.
Flexibility allows us to easily adapt and adjust as dictated by markets or events. It causes us to take on change when it is necessary for the success of the organization. It drives us to seek new challenges, greater knowledge,innovative ideas and relevant training.
Lack of flexibility is among the greatest impediments to growth and continual success. No customer wants to work with a company that is rigid, and no CEO wants to work with an employee who is inflexible.