Leaders are always on stage

August 31, 2012

Nashville Business Journal

Business leaders are always on stage. As you interact with your team, customers, salespeople, friends, family — even strangers — you send a message through everything you do and say.

People observe closely your words and actions as a leader. And most will follow your example, so make it a good one.

• First impression. This is important and lasting, so start things off right by dressing professionally. When in doubt, dress up one level. Set your sights on making a strong and positive impression every day on everyone you meet.

• Smile. Everyone wants to be around positive, happy people. You can be that person by starting with a simple smile. When you smile, it changes your outlook, can lift your mood and instantly makes you a more approachable person. It even makes you more attractive.

• Firm handshake. Bone-crushing handshakes are out, and wet dishrag handshakes communicate a lack of trust and a weak personality. Always remember that a firm handshake is a sign of strong character and personal confidence, regardless of gender.

• Eye contact. This quickly communicates positive self-assuredness and demonstrates your interest in what another person is saying. Direct eye contact also keeps you focused on the person you are communicating with and minimizes distractions. “Look ’em in the eye” is the golden rule of one-to-one conversation.

• Intentional listening. Listening is widely considered the most powerful communication skill — and one that we all can work on. Effective communication is directly related to the quality of our listening. When you listen, don’t do it part way; do it intently. Despite the myriad tasks and important decisions running through your head, don’t allow your mind to wander.

• Crafted communication. Your communications skills are critical, so focus on the messages you deliver in every situation. Craft your words carefully to assure that you are giving clear, unambiguous direction. When you are in front of a group, speak professionally. Keep a good pace, but don’t talk so fast that people can’t follow your thoughts. Use good grammar. Be polite. Say “please” and “thank you” often. And remember, there is no upside to using foul language.

Remember, you are on stage no matter where you are. Set the right example in and out of the workplace, in words and deeds. Your image and your actions communicate everything about you, so make sure you are sending the message you want to send.

Joe Scarlett is founder of the Scarlett Leadership Institute and the retired chairman of Tractor Supply Co. He can be reached at joe@scarlettleadership.com.

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