I recently met with a client at her office. As we walked from the reception area, another member of her executive team (a VP, I later found out) approached us and said, “Anne – did you get that email on the report I need this week?” Anne paused, and a bit awkwardly said, “Umm, yes, and Bill this is…” and proceeded to introduce me. I later asked Anne if that was the first time she had seen Bill that day; she confirmed my fear that it was. Yep – even with a guest in tow, that was Bill’s morning greeting. What a perfect example of an unhealthy workplace culture phenomenon first labeled for me by MindSet instructor, Jon Pearson: the Business Launch.
Workplace culture is incredibly tone sensitive – a tone that is largely established and maintained by the behavior of leaders.
I long ago stopped being impressed by individuals who are too busy for social chit chat. These are often the same individuals who, when I call for an appointment, will have an assistant tell me, “Well, you know his schedule is just packed. Let’s see, it looks like I can work you in late next month on the afternoon of...” Such a response impressed, and even slightly intimidated, me when I was younger, resulting in me gratefully accepting whatever audience was granted by the Pope. Today – given it is not the actual Pope – I am more likely to respond, “Well, I don’t really plan much further out than a week, so how about you just keep my name on your desk and if he gets a last-minute cancellation just give me a call – I can usually be available in an hour or so.”
Here is what I have learned: those who project themselves as being in great demand often believe that a packed schedule confirms their importance. It is actually quite the opposite. The most impressive leaders I know are indeed busy, but they invite interaction. It is ironic that those who are in the most demand are often the easiest to access: approachable and responsive. The best leaders may not be humble – but they tend to behave as if they are.
What is it that Bill does not understand? Well, likely among a large number of things, Bill seems to interact with humans the same way he interacts with his iPhone. His lack of a personal greeting suggests a poor interaction style that likely extends throughout his day. I suspect, having perhaps missed some key insights others gained from kindergarten, that Bill often issues commands and sees little need to express appreciation. Mature adults use the three extra words (literally) it takes to convert an order to a request: “Kerri, get me the Richards file.” becomes “Kerri, would you please get me the Richards file.” They even go the extra mile to utter an additional syllable: “thanks.” Bill may protest that he has a great relationship with Kerri and she is fine with their interaction style. Even if true (which I doubt), what Bill is missing is that others observe his interactions with Kerri and they are thinking, “What a ______!” You can fill in the blank, but here is a clue: they are not thinking, “What a really important guy!”
At the core, Bill fails to grasp that relationships based ONLY on mechanistic, work-related experiences are destined to have the emotional depth of a mud puddle – and it is emotional depth that provides the tensile strength of relationships. Effective leaders see the value of that strength – a value that becomes vividly apparent at times of conflict or when the company must navigate rough waters.
MindSet recognizes the need to operate efficiently in a fast-paced, urgent work environment. If the building is figuratively on fire, we recognize the occasional need to launch into an urgent business matter without even a smidgen of a greeting and to briskly issue orders. But that should be the exception. It is not a waste of time to make a genuine inquiry about the well-being of a colleague: “Hi, Anne! How was your evening? Is your son feeling better?”
The small social nicety of a brief personal check in can help monitor how a staff member is truly doing – both at work and in life. View it as a temperature check – one that will allow you to effectively intervene at an earlier stage when your support, or the use of such MindSet concepts as Linkage, will be most impactful in helping your colleague to be more successful at work and in LIFE.
Make it a pledge for your teams: avoid the Business Launch!