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Jul 23, 2015

I had a recent interaction that got me thinking about how people show up in the world so differently, and how the way we show up tells others about who we are.

While it’s important for anyone who cares about their career, reputation, and effectiveness to reflect on how they come across, it’s even more important for those in positions of leadership.

Leaders need to be especially mindful of whether their actions and reactions foster respect and trust. If a leader’s actions don’t foster respect and trust, they might get compliance through force of will or threat, but they will never get commitment and passionate effort from their people.

So what about you?

Before I share with you the interaction that got me thinking about this, please keep these questions in the back of your mind as you read on:

  • Do I act in ways that foster respect (not fear or compliance, but respect)?”
  • Do I model the traits I want to see in my people — traits like accountability and integrity?”

Here’s the interaction that got me thinking about this issue.

I recently interviewed Ali Manouchehri, founder and CEO of Zoomph and co-founder of MetroStar Systems, prior to his upcoming panel discussion at Maine Startup and Create Week.

From the very beginning of the interview, I had a glimpse into how he is able to lead two companies with strong cultural values of integrity, dependability, and accountability.

In our short conversation, I got a glimpse into why his employees love and respect him, and why they take him seriously when he talks about the company’s core values.

They take him seriously because he walks the talk

As we began the interview, he thanked me for sending him questions ahead of time. He said that he had just flown in from Amsterdam the previous night and during his morning run, had reflected on my questions and jotted down his answers.

He also didn’t say “I haven’t had time to look at your questions,” even though anyone would have understood why if he hadn’t.

There was no using an easy excuse for not being prepared.

He showed up prepared.

There was no underlying attitude of: “You’re lucky to be talking to me and because of that, I didn’t prepare, so I will be mailing it in,” an attitude I’ve had other interviewees communicate with both tone and lack of preparation.

A bad example to avoid

In contrast to Ali’s level of professionalism and commitment to excellence, I remember interviewing a senior executive at a marketing company, who I will call Andre (not his real name).

During our interview, Andre casually announced “I didn’t read the questions ahead of time.”

In my email prior to our interview, I had explicitly stated that an interview’s usefulness is directly related to the interviewee being able to provide specific examples and stories to illustrate their point, which was why I send interviewees the questions ahead of time.

When he announced that he hadn’t read the questions ahead of time, he said it without shame or apology.

He then proceeded to give meandering, stream-of-consciousness, and essentially content-free “answers” to my very specific questions.

He’s in trouble if that old aphorism is true

When the interview was over, I found myself wondering if this man put the same level of professionalism and commitment into his regular job.

Was he this undependable and blasé about his lack of dependability and professionalism at work?

When working on a project as part of a team, does he feel this comfortable about not pulling his weight or keeping his commitments?

While I hope not, given the truism “How you do anything is how you do everything,” his comfort level with being careless and undependable indicated it was probably not a one-off occurrence.

Would they make you bring your “A” game?

When you think of the two executives, and what it would be like working for each, would you not have more respect for Ali than Andre?

Would you not be more intent on bringing your A Game working for Ali than you would for Andre?

I know I would.

If I worked for Andre, I could see myself not respecting him and not taking his word seriously. I could see myself not as willing to jump through hoops to meet an unreasonable deadline he requested, given the fact that he frequently doesn’t keep his commitments or keep his end of the bargain.

Because it’s human nature to become like those we associate with, I could see his lack of accountability and integrity affecting me and others he works with.

The downward pull of mediocrity

Think about companies you’ve worked at where the standards were low. Even though you have high standards and probably never slipped to the level personified by most people in that company, you were still probably affected by the mediocrity around you.

You probably weren’t as fierce about being impeccable with each and every interaction and commitment as you were in companies where impeccability was the norm.

It was somewhat amusing to stand back and notice my interactions with Ali.

Even though I always try to be professional and bring my “A” game to whatever I do, I noticed I was more alert and focused than usual. It wasn’t an anxious, “I better not say something stupid” kind of feeling that a cantankerous, Doesn’t-Suffer-Fools-Gladly curmudgeon can trigger. It was a “This is a real pro; this is someone who operates at an elite level, I want to make sure I meet him at that level” feeling.

Do you operate in ways that foster that response in others?

9 questions to ask yourself

Here are some questions to get you thinking:

  1. If you say you are going to do something by a certain date, do you take keeping your word seriously?
  2. If you are unable to keep a commitment, do you feel and express chagrin, and go into overdrive to make it right?
  3. Do you show up to meetings on time, and on the rare occasions if you are late, do you apologize?
  4. Do you prepare for meetings, rather than expect others to get you up to speed?
  5. Do you pay attention to what others are saying, so your questions and responses show that you respect the person enough to listen carefully?
  6. Do you respond promptly to emails and voice mails, rather than requiring people to follow-up multiple times?
  7. Do you acknowledge receipt of emails containing updates, deliverables, and other messages the other person would appreciate knowing were actually delivered, or do you leave people guessing?
  8. Do you decide only to respond to emails and voice mails when you need something from the other person or do you respond whether there’s something in it for you or not?
  9. Are you as respectful and eager to help those with less power, or who don’t have something you want, as you are to those with more power and the ability to help you

How to get the most out of this

You can use this article in several ways.

  • Use it for yourself. Note which questions point out areas that need to be shored up and practice being more mindful of how you show up in those situations.
  • Use this article as a team-building tool. Have team members read it, discuss the questions, and generate agreed upon norms of working together.
  • Use this as a coaching tool to help foster self-awareness, whether you are coaching a manager or a high potential employee that is being groomed for leadership.