August 2, 2022
by Stephen T. Messenger
Recently, I met an important person that I’ll be working with a lot in the future. We shook hands, and I was ready for a longer conversation about how we can mutually help each other. But after about ten seconds, he politely excused himself and walked away.
There was nothing wrong with this behavior, but it struck me odd that he disappeared so quickly. A host of ridiculous questions popped into my brain. Did I do something wrong? Does he hate me? Was it my breath?
Most likely, the reality was that he’s a very busy person and had other things to do. It was an unexpected encounter, and I probably just caught him at a bad time. Unfortunately, not everyone is so understanding when they feel being blown off.
It’s Critical to Make Every Interaction Positive
I took this lesson going forward, as “Make Every Interaction Positive.” In a new leadership position with hundreds of people working for and with me, it’s nearly impossible to personally connect with everyone. That doesn’t mean I have to stop trying–quite the opposite.
As I roam all these different work areas, I make it a point to never walk by a room with someone in it. I stop, introduce myself, and ask some questions about them. It is simple, time consuming, and important.
You could get this right 100 times but much like my encounter, the first person you miss thinks the new boss is an uncaring jerk who’s too busy to flash a quick smile and say “hi.”
Leaders must get this right with both individuals and groups.
This week, I tried it out. I was invited to speak with a Reserve Army Engineer Company training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. I had worked with one of the Platoon Leaders in the past, a phenomenal young leader, and he asked if I would come out to their training area to speak with their company.
I could have showed up, talked for a few minutes, and walked away like I’ve seen many leaders do in the past. I wanted to do better than that.
It’s Not the Words You Say, But How They Feel
I’m starting to realize that what comes out of my mouth is less important than how others feel after the interaction. Here was my game plan.
1. Thank Them. There is no better way to start speaking than with a thank you from the heart.
2. Get Personal. I started with asking a few questions about themselves. Where are you from? Who has the coolest civilian job? What was the best part of being in Wisconsin? Leaders need to personally engage the people they’re talking to. Public speaking is not about the speaker, it’s about the people.
3. Be Inspiring. I scanned my brain for a short, concise message that (hopefully) would inspire them. Everyone needs a bank of short speeches they can pull out to fit the audience they’re speaking with. I use the articles on this website—in this case, I pulled out Success Versus Significance talking about how personal success pales in comparison to leaving a legacy for others.
4. Educate Them. After speaking for less than five minutes, my Command Sergeant Major gave a short pitch on career paths and opportunities to educate themselves for free through the Army. It’s all about building others up and caring for their careers.
5. Connect Individually. After she was done, we walked through the formation, shaking everyone’s hand, thanking them for their service, and asking what their civilian job is. This personal connection shifts the feel from a disconnected leader pontificating ideas to a connected leader wanting to know about you individually, and truly caring about people.
6. Be Memorable. We ended with a group photo and a surprise push-up session just for fun (yes, Army people have a different definition of fun than most). Afterwards, we sent them the photo.
What Will They Remember?
Who knows what they’ll remember, and I doubt they’ll deeply reflect, or recall, the words either of us spoke. But they are going to remember how they felt afterwards.
They’ll remember being brave enough to say they have one of the coolest jobs in the company. They’ll remember a personal handshake and a thank you. And they’ll remember a senior leader pushing the dirt with them for no reason at all.
Whether it’s a group or individual, while they’ll forget the words you say, they won’t forget that you cared enough to connect personally and spend time with what matters most to your organization: people. It’s up to you to make every interaction positive.
Leadership is all about people. We encourage you to join us in building others to be better leaders. Subscribe in the box above at no cost and with no ads to receive a weekly email about a new leadership concept every Tuesday. Thank you for leading in whatever profession, organization, or family you’re in!
Most Read Article of the Year: It Only Takes One
Most Read Article of the Month: Reflect Before Leading