Hi, I’m Nathan Magnuson. I’m a corporate consultant, coach and trainer on organizational leadership development. I write on topics that apply to leadership situations you are likely to encounter on an everyday basis. My aim is to make leadership seem easier, less complicated and more fun.
It’s been over a decade since I returned from a year-long Army deployment to Iraq. It’s been over six years since I finished my military obligations altogether. Even though I’ve all but forgotten my initial trip to the recruiter’s office, some things will stick with me for life.
From time to time, I’m asked how my military experience informed my leadership. Here is a small sample of my lessons learned.
Taking care of business in Kirkuk, Iraq, 2008
Ready or Not… Lead
When I showed up at my initial training unit, I was immediately assigned to a platoon leader role. I felt completely inadequate for the responsibility… because I was. But as I looked at the other soldiers lined up to my left and to my right, I realized something. They weren’t ready for the job either. So it might as well be me!
Robert J. Thomas famously said, “Sometimes events can conspire to make you a leader.” You might be a new soldier with his first leadership assignment or a new executive getting thrown off the deep end. Whether you’re ready or not, it’s time to lead.
In case you haven’t seen enough military movies, I can confirm for you that the military has low patience for excuses. Wearing the wrong uniform? Showing up late to formation? Forget having a good excuse. Accept the responsibility for being wrong and don’t let it happen again.
Ex-Navy SEAL Jocko Willink put it best in his book NYT bestselling book Extreme Ownership, “The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame.”
There are so many opportunities to lead in the military that anytime you turn your head, you get the benefit of observation – provided you take it. Experienced senior leaders, new junior leaders, commanders, team leaders, friendly leaders, gruff leaders – take your pick. If you pay attention, there’s always something to learn. As I shared in my book Ignite Your Leadership Expertise, observation is the best leadership education you can receive for free.
Quick Feedback = Quick Improvement
One of the big shocks for most new recruits is having a drill sergeant get in your face about something, especially if you don’t think the real (or made up) infraction was your fault. The longer it takes to accept the feedback, the more painful the process and the longer it takes to improve.
Getting feedback from an authority figure is one thing, but quite another coming from a peer. I still remember my battle buddy Josh Erickson quickly pulling me to the side one day and telling me in no uncertain terms that if I was going to complain about a work process I disagreed with, to “spout off” to my peers and not in front of junior soldiers – ever. He was right and I knew it. His feedback helped me get back on track quickly.
The oft forgotten SOF Truth (SOF stands for Special Operations Forces) is “Most special operations require non-SOF assistance.” I’ve come to appreciate this truth more and more over time. Without collaboration, performance suffers tremendously.
Even in highly autocratic leadership cultures, collaboration (even – and sometimes especially – with less “elite” groups) opens the door to high performance.
Results & Relationships
One of the great dichotomies of leadership is trying to balance the need for positive relationships and positive results. My brother Capt Cale “Rowdy” Magnuson wrote about the importance of love in the Marine Corps. And any military leader understands the importance of completing the mission.
This dichotomy isn’t unique the the military though. No one respects a leader who can’t get results and no one wants to work for a leader who is a big jerk.
The military taught me that “balance” may not be the answer after all. It’s better to be great at both.
Life or Death Leadership
In the military, the implications of leadership were fully felt. In many instances, leadership was the difference between life and death. I assumed that would change once I transitioned to civilian occupations. But it hasn’t.
When I served as a consultant to the FBI, poor leadership could have fatal implications. When I worked for a construction company, failing to follow safety standards could result in death. When I worked for a hospital company, a study was released showing that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death post-birth. And somehow I’ve never been able to forget a report showing that on the day workers get laid off, police respond to higher than normal levels of domestic abuse reports that evening.
Leadership isn’t about winning and losing. It’s often life and death – literally. The military showed me how to take it seriously.
I wish that everyone had the opportunity to serve a stint in the military, but I know it’s not possible. The experience isn’t for everyone. If you have military experience – I encourage you to generate and share your leadership reflections. If not, look for an accelerator experience that can speed up your leadership competency.
Recently retired Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder famously crafted 16 Goals for Success which he used with his football teams over his decades of coaching. Goal #13 stated, “Expect to win… and truly believe we will.” According to Coach Snyder, one of the root causes of success was belief itself.
In my white paper Nine Ways to Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For, the very first best practice I share is “Belief in the cause.” As a leader, it’s not enough to simply perform the work itself. It’s also not enough to hold only private beliefs. Public beliefs allow leaders to give others around them something to aspire to.
What types of belief should a leader have? Here are a few for starters.
The Mission and Values of the Organization
It should go without saying that leaders ought to believe in the mission of the organization. After all, they represent the organization to those they lead. There is a huge difference between passive indifference to the mission and responsible ownership.
It’s true that not all missions (and mission statements) are created equal. Either way, effective leaders share their belief by vocalizing “what is it we stand for around here.”
The Product or Service
Some organizations serve people in the midst of their most vulnerable moments. Others create commodities. Some products and services are more exciting then others. But all leaders have the opportunity to rally their teams around the outcome of their work.
A simple way is to ask teams to consider the outcome of a flawed product – or a poor quality or service experience.
One company I worked for installed insulation. The product wasn’t exciting, but it provided leaders with the opportunity to insist that, “a house with poorly installed insulation can’t possibly be a home – it can only just be a house. We help build homes, not just houses.”
The Right Way to Do the Job
Each of us possess a certain amount of expertise, including leadership expertise – as my book Ignite Your Leadership Expertise explained. Even though we may be in charge, we’re all on a growth journey.
Regardless of their own levels of expertise, effective leaders possess a POV for how their field ought to operate and the right way to perform essential tasks. For the sous chef, this means insisting on the exact time and temperature for the signature dish. For the auto mechanic, it means having a precise method to perform a safety check. The focus isn’t micromanagement, but effectiveness.
An unfortunate trap execution-focused leaders can fall into is believing (either consciously or unconsciously) that people are a means to an end. People aren’t the means to an end. People are the end.
Retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch observed that, “If you don’t like people, leadership stinks!” He estimated that 70% of his job was developing people.
How would you like to be the employee of a leader who believed people don’t matter? How would you like to be the customer?
If it’s been a while since you shared (and showed) how important your team members and customers are in your work, it’s probably time.
“People aren’t a means to an end. People are the end.”
We Can Overcome… Together
If you’ve watched any of Coach Bill Snyder’s teams play – or any sports teams for that matters – it probably didn’t take long before you saw an incredible game-winning comeback. Against all odds, one team overcame an enormous deficit to win the game.
Obstacles, challenges and resistance aren’t unique to athletics. They exist in every area of work and life. It’s the nature of the response that determines the outcome. As Henry Ford famously stated, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
The highest performing, most resilient teams embody the belief that they can overcome any challenge… together.
The seventh year of the Everyday Leadership blog has come to a close in 2018. Here are the Top 10 works (not just posts this time!) from the year. (By the way, you can view all my past Top 10 posts as well.)
Leadership expert and blogger Bob Tiede shared an excerpt from Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. These three questions are easy to remember and natural to ask. When asked, both your leadership expertise and ability to influence will grow.
Leadership expert and blogger Joe Lalonde shared an interview based on Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. I shared how new leaders can gain traction and how we can all ignite a love for leadership in others.
What happens when you find yourself in the midst of a crisis situation? Do you freeze up? Jump into action? Sit down to create a plan? What if you’re the person in charge?
It’s the leader’s job recognize when stakes are high and respond appropriately. We don’t need to look far to see harsh criticisms of leaders with underwhelming responses to crises that occurred on their watch.
If you find yourself in the midst of a crisis you didn’t create, welcome to leadership. How you respond may make all the difference.
These nine questions will help you plan your response.
What is the worst possible outcome?
When leaders underestimate the stakes of the crisis they’ve encountered, the battle is already half lost. If the worst possible outcome is devastating or irreversible, the response ought to be overwhelming.
How urgent is the situation?
Some leaders need a slap in the face to realize the urgency of a crisis situation. Unfortunately, managing from “crisis to crisis” is the status quo for many leaders. But if everything is a crisis, then nothing is. The urgency of true crises ought to take priority.
Are you the one responsible for the outcome? If not, who is?
Leaders who take exclusive responsibility to solve a crisis situation that is wholly (or partially) the responsibility of others can quickly make a situation worse and more complicated.
How qualified are you to address the crisis?
Low responsibility leaders are hesitant to take initiative in crisis situations. High responsibility leaders may take too much responsibility. Just because you are the leader does not mean you are competent to handle any given situation. You can still be the leader and rely on those with specific expertise in the situation you’re facing.
Who can help you make the tough decisions?
Just because you are solely responsible for navigating a crisis doesn’t mean you should go it alone. In the fog of the moment, it’s best to reach out to someone outside of the situation who has a clear head, especially if they’ve been through this type of situation before.
What is the immediate next step you should take?
It is likely impossible to solve a crisis on the spot, but inaction accomplishes nothing. At the very least, be prepared to respond decision-by-decision and action-by-action, starting with the first one.
How should you assess the situation moving forward?
As a crisis begins to stabilize, a sense of relief can be natural but also premature. It’s important to identify which factors are most likely to maintain stability.
What criteria should trigger additional action?
Whether stable or not, it’s important to set clear escalation criteria.
What could solve the entire crisis right now?
Occasionally, it’s possible to solve the crisis situation with one single action. It may not be the easiest, cheapest, preferred or beneficial long-term. But if it represents an immediate solution, it should be on the table.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” You haven’t led until you have a crisis or two under your belt. There will be more. Your leadership under stress IS your leadership – and crisis brings it out in a way ordinary circumstances can’t match. Respond poorly and your opportunity to lead may be compromised. Respond well and you’ll likely receive greater opportunities in the future.
I’m told that one quote preachers try to live by is, “If it’s foggy in the pulpit, it’s cloudy in the pew.” In other words, as the leader and communicator, if you’re unclear about any part of your message, it’s a sure bet everyone else is as well.
You don’t have to be a preacher to risk setting unclear expectations. If you’re responsible for performance outcomes of any kind, unclear expectations could be your biggest kryptonite. In fact, if the expectations you set are unclear, you force members of your team to work as much as three times as hard.
Consensus on the Intention Must Be Reached
With unclear expectations, before any work can be done, the folks performing the work must determine what they think the expectations are. Depending on the size or scope of the project, this could require significant time and energy. When an entire team is involved, the level of effort, time and cost adds up quickly.
The Original Work Must Be Completed
Regardless of expectations, the initial set of tasks must be done.
Constant Troubleshooting Must Be Performed
This is where the cost really multiplies. Whenever new information comes in, the team must halt their progress and redirect. In many unfortunate cases, additional re-work is required.
And this doesn’t factor in the cost of morale lost in the process!
So how can you make sure you’re expectations are clear as crystal?
First, always assume that the expectations you give will be misinterpreted. Then go the extra mile to reiterate your message. At the very least, for everyone performing the work, provide clarity of outcome and clarity of role.
One of the reasons the best bosses have the highest engaged teams is because everyone knows where they stand in relation to the goal. No one has to wonder and feedback can be more forward focused. So go the extra inch – or mile – to create clarity from the start. Every comes out on top.
Winston Churchill declared, “Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
He wasn’t the only leader who recognized the reality of failure on the journey to success. Late Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy admitted, “When you fail, you have to start all over again from a lesser position.” Before discovering a major breakthrough, inventor Thomas Edison insisted, “I have not failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Alexander Pope imparted, “To err is human.”
Ultimately, the only way to avoid failure is to never attempt anything new – which can prove the greatest failure of all in times of change. Failure should never be the goal, but it should be a tool. After all, not all failures are equal.
Since we’re all sentenced to fail periodically along the way, let’s be proactive about the types of failure we leverage in our pursuit of success.
You’ve heard about the importance of quick wins before. They produce visible results and generate positive momentum. But what about quick failures? If your new idea or solution is doomed from the start, the quickest way to get to success is to fail fast.
Consider this scenario: Your team comes up with an innovative solution to solve a complex problem in a new way. Because it’s new, it requires significant time to analyze and design. Implementation is a complicated mix of communication, coordination and change management as well. You’re well past the point of no return when you finally come to the realization that the project has been a mistake all along. Now what?
When you fail fast, you can redirect fast. Each iteration (and reiteration) brings success closer and quicker than playing the slow game.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, as they say. Not only does it hurt to discover you’ve made a mistake after investing substantial time and effort into a project. If you’ve already sunk a significant amount of funding, you’re left with a real conundrum: stay the course in hopes of recouping a portion of your investment? Or cut ties and incur the wrath of the executive sponsors and finance department
These don’t have to be your only two options. If your project may fail, design it in a way so that you will find out while the level of investment is still low – before you incur significant cost.
Fail on a Small Scale
Perhaps the worst failure scenario is to wait until you make it to the grand stage of a major deployment to discover your solution won’t work. It’s hard to recover credibility after a public blunder delivered at full scale. In their book Decisive, Chip Heath and Dan Heath recommend a way to reality test your assumptions using a method they call “ooch.” To “ooch” is simply to deploy a big idea on a small scale upfront. Use a test market or a pilot group. Create a pilot for a pilot, if you can. Be obnoxious in soliciting feedback each step of the way, especially negative feedback so you can incorporate it into the large scale, fully-tested version.
Failure shouldn’t be celebrated, but it should accepted as a reality of the growth process. The best leaders capitalize on their mistakes – or as Dale Carnegie put it, they profit from their losses. Ultimately, no failure is productive unless we learn from it.
Have you ever received the good fortune of being promoted to the new leader of your team, only to find that life got complicated and edgy the moment you started? All of a sudden, your peers knew you as “boss” and not just their buddy. There’s a vast difference between the two.
What did you do in that situation? What should you do? Many leaders of former peers struggle at first. Some even go so far as to request a demotion in order to return to the way things were. There has to be a better way.
If you find yourself leading former peers, here are some steps you can take.
Address the Elephant in the Room
When you get promoted to the new boss, it’s a cause for celebration. But it’s also a cause for concern. Your old pals want special treatment. The rest want to be treated as equals. They probably doubt your ability to stay objective. Everyone will be waiting to see what happens.
The easiest way to address this situation is head on – in one of your first team meetings.
“I’d like take a minute to address the elephant in the room. I went from a peer to the boss. This means my level of responsibility has changed. It’s been a privilege to work along side of you and I’m excited to play a bigger role on this team.”
Acknowledge Prior Relationships
The quickest way to diffuse a tense situation is to acknowledge it directly. Your doubters will be forced to agree with you. So acknowledge your prior relationships in a positive way. Share how important they’ve been to you and how much you value them.
“It’s true that I’ve developed some strong relationships on this team over the time we’ve worked together. I wouldn’t be the professional I am today without your support. On a personal level, I value our relationship and the camaraderie we’ve enjoyed. I’m excited to be your leader, even though it means our interactions will need to be more inclusive of the rest of the team.”
Develop Relationships with New Team Members
Make it a strong point to reach out and get to know members of the team you have less of a connection with. Schedule group or 1:1 meetings. Make it a high priority to elicit their input. Find out what they are working on and ask specifically for their recommendations, concerns and personal aspirations.
“For those of you I haven’t worked with as closely, I need to tell you that you are as much a part of this team as everyone else and I value your contribution. I’m going to make it a point to get understand your work, recommendations, concerns and aspirations so I can be the leader you deserve.”
Set Clear Expectations for Everyone
Let everyone know what you expect from a relationship commitment standpoint – what you expect from them and what they should expect from you.
“I’m committed to working with each of you and supporting you regardless of how much we’ve worked together in the past. Everyone has equal “say” here and everyone will be held to the same standard.”
Ask for Input
It’s one thing to make a declaration, but in reality, that is only one-way communication. Teammates communicate with each other differently than they do with “management.” Go the extra mile to encourage two-way communication with your team. The moment they stop communicating with you, you’ve lost them.
“This is a big deal to me, which is why I bring this up today. But I want our ability to work together to be an open, ongoing discussion. If you ever feel that I’m not supporting you the way you need, will you let me know? We can fix anything if we’re open with each other.”
Repeat and Reinforce
It’d be nice if one interaction set the tone for the rest of time, but that’s rarely the case. What’s important must be repeated – often. Significant doubts often require multiple interactions to quell.
Of course, the most critical component is for your actions to match your message. This may mean saying no to happy hour with your buddies and insisting on a team event instead. It means being intentional about building new relationships. It definitely means listening and asking questions.
It’s never easy to lead former peers. But your organization wants (and needs) you to succeed. You were their choice to lead the team. The last thing they want is for you fail. But regardless of how supported you feel by your leadership team (they are busy, stressed and imperfect, just like you are!), your commitment to your new team is your responsibility.
For each leader reaching for higher levels of productivity and accomplishment, a “start doing” list can be a friendly companion or a demanding task master – sometimes both at the same time. But what about a “stop doing” list?
Whether you have an aggressive new initiative or are simply looking to streamline your effectiveness, a stop doing list may be the very thing you need. Here are six reasons why.
The most scarce resource anyone possesses is time. Everyone has the same amount of hours in a day. Once used, they can never be replaced. Each individual activity you engage in requires your time. Adding anything to your stop doing list immediately frees up time that can be invested elsewhere.
When new opportunities present themselves, high achievers have a tendency to cram them on top of everything they are already working on. The result? Sometimes they succeed unscathed. Other times, this tactic adds stress and decreases the level of attention given across the board. Quality suffers. Finally, after a few less than stellar experiences, they begin to drag their feet when new opportunities present themselves.
A healthy stop doing list can break this cycle. New initiatives present the opportunity to let old ones go.
Peter Drucker famously said, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” A stop doing list provides the opportunity to distinguish between which activities add value and which ones simply take time.
As innovation in technology continues to change how tasks are completed, there is a very realistic chance that what required human activity yesterday can be automated today. Being late to adapt can significantly set back your effectiveness, individually and organizationally. The best stop doing lists have a bias for automation.
Just because you stop doing a task shouldn’t mean it doesn’t get done. If you are a leader, a stop doing item could be a delegation opportunity for you and a growth opportunity for someone on your team. If your attention isn’t focused on the activities only you can perform, you may need to start a stop doing list.
If you were fired today, what would your replacement continue to do? What would she stop doing? No worthwhile replacement picks up legacy tasks simply to fill time. If you have doubts that a reasonable replacement would continue a task, it may be a good candidate for your stop doing list.
The concept of a stop doing list can feel intimidating on the surface, but when used intentionally, it is one of the most freeing exercises any leader can complete. If you’re stressed, overwhelmed or unsatisfied with your performance, a stop doing list may be the breakthrough you need.
Are you an idea person? Do you find yourself coming up with new business ideas, branding concepts or process improvements? Does careful project management sometimes stifle your creativity? Do people ever give you that look that implies you ought to focus on the task at hand instead of daydreaming?
If so, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you! And the good news is, you have a special and significant gift. Change is always preceded by thought. As Robin Sharma said, “Everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality.”
Some of us are naturally wired to generate ideas easily. But I also believe the ability to ideate is part of all of us. It’s a muscle that grows with stimulation.
If you identify as an idea person – or are looking to better steward the quality and quantity of your ideas – here are some strategies you might consider.
Find a Time and Place to Let Your Ideas Flow
If you are an idea person, your ideas will never stop flowing, but without intentionality, the complexity of daily life (and especially work life) can become an enormous choke point that limits the quantity (and quality) of ideas you can consistently generate. One way to give your ideas an outlet is to have a time and place to let them flow. You might take walks or block a certain time during the week. I’ve discovered my best ideas come when I’m mowing the lawn.
Record Your Ideas
A mental note is worth something but an actual note not only provides your idea with a reference point, it forces you to better articulate the thought itself. You might place a journal on your desk or by your bed. Or an electronic notebook on your phone. It’s amazing how periodically reading through old ideas can help you generate new ones.
Set Idea Goals
In college, I asked a classmate turned musician how he was able to write so many songs. He replied that he had a goal of writing one song per week. Some were crummy but some were good. You might set a goal of one new idea per day. Or a number of them per week or month. Having a goal can also help you evaluate whether your circumstances are enhancing or stifling your creative flow.
Let Your Ideas Go
Practical folks will tell you your ideas aren’t feasible. And many times they are correct! But that’s not the point of generating ideas. Often, you need to get through many impractical ideas in order to find the inspired ones. True idea people generate many more ideas than they could ever act upon. So don’t be afraid to generate a new idea, give it a mental high five and then leave it as you move on.
Pick Your Ideas Carefully
In order to execute your ideas effectively, as your creativity grows, so must your critical thinking. You cannot possibly execute on all your ideas. You must choose the few with the most promise. This means selecting the ones that increase your effectiveness, lead to a new breakthrough, or enable you to “fail forward” if they do not work out.
Share with the Right People
Not everyone appreciates a hearing a spontaneous new idea. But at some point your ideas may benefit from:
Fellow Idea People: They help brainstorm and generate new ideas with you.
Cheerleaders: They cheer you on for most (if not all) ideas you share with them, even if they are not involved.
Critical Thinkers: They help you evaluate the quality of your idea for the purpose of execution.
Teammates: They help you execute on the idea.
Don’t confuse one group with another. And if your confidence or self-assurance is shaky, be careful who you share your best ideas with.
Separate Your Ideas from Your Identity
You are not your idea. So if someone trashes your idea, or if your idea doesn’t work, you can simply reply, “Well, it was just an idea” and move on to the next one.
Treat Detail People Like Royalty
It’s a beautiful (and maddening) reality of life that people with opposite strengths need each other in order to be effective. Without detail people to organize ideas into actionable tasks, idea people would be lost. It’s crucial to appreciate the skills and involvement of the people who help you execute. After all, if it weren’t for them, you’d be stuck.
Accept the Responsibility to Lead
Another simple reality of life is that if enough of your ideas are good ones, you will eventually be invited into a formal leadership role. Why? Because vision precedes action – and vision can’t be outsourced. But if your leadership skills don’t match the quality of your ideas, it won’t be a fun experience, either for your or your followers. So invest in growing your leadership skills at the same time as you develop your idea skills.
Victor Hugo once famously stated, “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” I believe it is easier in this day in age for any person to contribute an idea that changes the course of history than ever before. Who is to say the next great idea can’t be yours?
Several years ago I had a shocking experience that permanently changed my outlook. I’m afraid the traces of that experience began in high school. As a high school football player, we had a strictly enforced protocol among the players for team photos. Forget saying, “Cheese” – everyone needed to wear a game face. Later, I joined the military and the same code of conduct applied. Several years after that, I was serving as a consultant on a project with the Defense Intelligence Agency. By then I’d earned a top secret security clearance and reported to work on a heavily guarded military base. On my way in one day, I happened to see a photo pop up on the security officer’s monitor as I scanned my badge. The screen showed one of the meanest mugs I’d seen in a long time. And it belonged to me!
I suppose by that time I had mastered the art of the game face to the point it had become second nature. The fellow on the screen (my picture) looked ill-humored, impatient and most of all, intimidating. I reasoned with myself that the chances of encountering an enemy face-to-face were really quite low. But in my role as a consultant, I interacted every single day with clients and colleagues on important issues that required my influence. That’s when I made a permanent decision – I committed to ditching the game face permanently and replacing it with a smile.
Did you know that Charles Schwab estimated that his smile had been worth a million dollars? Smiling for the sake of friendliness is a noble sentiment. But I want to show you that smiling can actually get you much more of what you want from a business standpoint as well.
Let me share with you seven things that a smile communicates in a professional interaction.
“I’m a positive person.” – Positivity
If you want to send an instant message about your personal brand, flash a smile. Let people know that not only did you show up, but you’re happy to be there. Studies have shown that 93% of our communication is non-verbal, and a smile communicates positivity instantaneously.
“I’m happy with who I am.” – Self-Confidence
Have you ever noticed that folks who lack confidence have a hard time offering a genuine smile? Maybe they can give a nervous or deflective smile, but that’s about it. Instead of worrying about their own limitations, self-confident people offer a smile devoid of ulterior motives.
“I care about you more than my own problems.” – Empathy
Your problems are obviously important to you, but a smile communicates otherwise. It’s unfortunate how busyness and stress thwart our ability to connect with others. Choosing to smile despite circumstances can help overcome this.
“Let’s connect.” – Approachability
If you need to reach out to a new group you don’t know well, but you know someone in the group has a great smile, who will you contact first? Obviously, it’s the person with the smile. Why? It’s simply easier, more enjoyable and less emotionally taxing to interact with someone who is approachable.
“Let’s figure this out together.” – Collaboration
In a business setting, a smile can communicate an unsolicited offer to collaborate. Maybe not on the surface, but it’s the next step after approachability. If you are happy to interact with someone, it follows that you would be happy to see them succeed as well – including with your involvement.
“Let’s work together.” – Business Development
I work with many vendor partners and the ones I enjoy most and seek to do the most business with are the ones who are positive, collaborative and make my problems their top priority. A smile is the invitation that opens the door. It’s the first competitive advantage – and it’s the easiest and cheapest form of marketing there is.
“I have your best interest in mind.” – Commitment
There is a difference between a smile to get someone’s business and a smile to keep someone’s business. One is genuine and one isn’t. One is a long-term commitment and one is only short-term. The best smiles are the ones that last.
So how do you learn to smile if you’ve been accustomed to being a grouch? My favorite example comes from a young lady named Anjeli. In a professional development class we attended together, she shared how she had forced herself to smile in the mirror all the while playing a YouTube clip of a speech by the politician she most despised. She figured if she could smile through the clip, she could smile in any occasion. So can all of us, I believe.
Wherever you land on the smile spectrum, I encourage you to refresh your commitment. Not only will it make you a friendlier, happier person, it’s likely to put dollars in your pocket as well.