We have spent a lot of years studying personality traits, traits like assertiveness, stress resilience and of course, intelligence. Oddly enough we always tell people that your traits (or IQ) are not what matter: it’s what people do with their traits. Your behavior is what counts.
No, we aren’t making precious distinctions. Smart people do some pretty dumb things at times. And oftentimes C-students can put in the sweat and effort to come up with A+ solutions.
We want to help you be an even better leader. So while it’s great to be an A+ performer or to have “leadership traits,” the key is doing the things great leaders do.
Some of those things don’t seem all that outstanding because they are small in and of themselves – but then again, almost everything important in life is like that. Here is one small example: casual relationship building. Examples are better than theory so we’ll share the way good CEOs commonly act when they first meet us, e.g. in a developmental assessment.
She comes in on time and had she been late she would have apologized. She shakes hands and talks about how eager she is to go through the assessment; she’s heard such good things about us and the process. In the course of a few minutes of conversation she learns something about both Bob and me on a personal level. She shares a little about herself too. Ah! Yes, she knows that school—she had a friend there. That picture I have of my Labrador—she has an elderly Golden Retriever that really is her son’s, but he’s away at college. He has become her walking partner and she can’t imagine giving him up when her son returns.
She uses our names once or twice in a four-hour period. She carries her part of the interview, e.g., “Can I tell you a story about that, I think it will help offer some background.” Her facial affect is appropriate to what she is discussing – mostly smiles, but not when a smile would be inappropriate.
She could talk about the technical aspects of her work, but she has no need to impress and instead wants us to understand. What’s the difference in two types of aircraft? She thinks for a moment. “Have you driven both manual and automatic transmission cars?” Yep. “Well,” she says, “let’s use that as an analogy,” and proceeds to make a very complicated issue accessible.
She can talk about failures. She doesn’t hesitate or qualify the failure: it was something that she was in part responsible for, it didn’t work, it was serious and she learned from it. No evading, we never hear, “Well anyone in my position would have done the same thing.” She says “I” and “me.” She doesn’t blame her board or her team.
She can talk about successes as well and in this case there is always a team involved in the win. We hear a lot of “we” and “us.”
She is not being phony. At no point do we imagine we have become instant best friends nor was that ever her intention. She is not underhandedly manipulating us; she is working to make the interaction as easy for us as possible. And it is easy. Time flies, everyone enjoys the interaction. She leaves giving compliments.
At times, we encounter the opposite, often in younger people who aspire to be leaders but aren’t quite there yet. These people are polite but missing a few steps. There is no attempt to learn about us as people. No small talk. Questions are asked with a minimum of information. No use of names. Oftentimes jargon is thrown in the conversation to impress us. The same facial expression whether a frown or a smile is fixed for hours. No compliments. We often call these “the tough nuts.” They are trying to control the interview by withholding or trying to act tough—what they think will seem older and more experienced.
We don’t mind in the slightest. We get it. These are not bad people. We are psychologists and we know where the awkward behavior comes from; but it can make a bad impression on other people and emphasize any age differences. The CEO we talked about before? We never even thought about her age. She was a person, we are people; it didn’t even cross our minds.
Whether you are going through an assessment, a negotiation, a routine meeting or any other occasion to meet people, act like a CEO. It will help you form a better impression—and therefore relationship—however brief that may be.
Robyn Porterfield is Managing Principal and Bob Rose Principal of Dallas-based Rose Porterfield Group. They consult to executive teams in a wide range of business areas dealing with people at work.