I learnt a lesson last week. You could say it’s a bit late for me to learn this lesson but I’d rather think of it as continual learning as situations sometimes enable us to re-evaluate and reflect.
At the beginning of last week I was thanked for my help by two organisations at a national event, by mid week I found myself apologising for a personal email I had written which had been poorly received because of the language I used, towards the end of the week I was asked for careers advice by someone who surprised me and on Friday I had two unrelated calls about mentoring.
Whilst it’s obviously lovely to be thanked I didn’t feel I had actually done very much. It was the organisations that had transformed their services not me, but whether it was encouragement, tough but fair challenge on occasions, professional nagging or laughter when it was needed my input was valued by them and I should not dismiss it. I was surprised at the impact of the email I had written, although I accept my choice of words was poor, but it reinforces that email can so easily be misinterpreted; the person concerned is a colleague / friend who knows me pretty well. I am quite frequently asked for careers advice but this week I was asked for advice from a very confident individual; someone on the same level as me who I really respect, what made it surprising is that we have never seen eye to eye, we are very different individuals and approach things in very different ways. The two calls about mentoring were as a result of observing my approach at various events this year; I pointed out that basically what you see is what you get; airs and graces are few and far between.
Why am I telling you about my week? Because self awareness and personal impact are hugely important and we often forget this. We must not underestimate our impact on people, this applies both in and out of work, and even if you consider yourself self aware, it is important to revisit and re consider the impact you have on others. First impressions, getting the message across, influencing others, letting people see who you are and what you stand for is crucial.
A number of years ago when I was new in my General Management post one of my team mentioned that they had suggested someone come and talk to me about my career path, the person concerned was on a very similar career path to the one I had followed. When they suggested the member of staff should come and talk to me they apparently had said they couldn’t waste my time because I was surely too busy to talk to them. I remember this because it was probably the first time I seriously realised that to everyone else I wasn’t just me. To them I was the General Manager; senior and busy; the person that people looked at to lead and manage the directorate. I wasn’t the person who can’t decide which restaurant to eat in, which movie to watch or the person who loves watching the X Factor for Simon Cowell.
We unintentionally underestimate our impact all the time. There is a balance here; think about it too much and it will be counter productive but it does need thinking about. How do we come across to others? Positive and powerful, overbearing or perhaps uncertain and woolly? What impression do we give? People react to how they are treated; make a positive impact and this has a direct positive effect, make a negative impact, this has an effect too.
Being technically good isn’t enough. Being able to connect with people and earn their trust is the most important thing and how you come across is key to this. It doesn’t need to be difficult, it’s often the simple things that make a significant difference; eye contact, responding to emails, even if it’s just a quick acknowledgment, saying hello to people when you pass them, being prepared to observe and listen, turning up to meetings when you say you are going to and participating.
When talking about impact to a CEO fairly recently he gave me a great example. He had received some really positive feedback from some of the consultant staff after what perhaps could be described as a rocky start. He assumed it was because he had moved the organisation from not performing well to performing well; the financial situation was more robust and there was a good strategy in place. When he asked what it was that had made the difference the response was very simple; they valued that he always replied to letters, acknowledged emails and even if they had to wait a bit was never too busy to talk and listen to their ideas.
Let’s not underestimate the simple stuff.