Your work: It costs nothing to be nice - but it will cost not to be
'It's my dream job," the young woman told me, with a smile on her face. An international chief executive for whom she had previously worked, and whom I had previously coached, had recommended we meet. So last week found us sitting across from each other at a crowded cafe.
She ordered a cappuccino and I decided to try the new cannabis tea they were advertising. "Perfectly legal and calming," they promised. OK. Sure, why not? I was having a stressful week.
"Why is it your dream job?" I asked, urging her to elaborate on her newly landed position.
She described how the role was an expansion from her previous job and how she believed the opportunity to progress within this smaller company seemed more viable than where she had worked before.
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"There's just one thing," she hesitated.
"Yes, what's that?"
"Well, it's hard to describe. Nobody looks up from their desks when you walk in. No one showed me the canteen on my first day and my boss hasn't said hello or goodbye to me once during the two weeks I've been on the job."
"Then it isn't really a dream, is it?" I pressed.
"No, I guess not," she acknowledged.
Despite her expanded responsibilities and the potential growth opportunity, the unsocial, introverted and reclusive atmosphere she finds herself in sounds more like a nightmare to me. Especially when you consider the person who hired her is the same person who is now not speaking to her.
What we've got here is failure to communicate. (If you don't already know, that quote is from the classic film Cool Hand Luke. Do yourself a favour and watch it. After you've finished reading my column, of course.)
But, actually, it's more than that. This is a leader's failure to take responsibility. As a leader you must understand that you set the tone for the entire office, department or company. You don't take the time to interview and hire someone and then not talk to them from their first day forward. Simply put, corporate culture starts with you.
So, let's get right to it. Here are my top reminders of what you must remember when you are at the top.
1. Remember people are always watching
A new coaching client of mine said she is liked and respected by her peers who know her well but people who only see her in the hallway may think she's "cold". When I asked her why she thought there was such a divide, she readily admitted she didn't "turn it on" when she didn't think it mattered.
It always matters. As a leader, or a regular employee for that matter, people are reading your expression and body language all the time. Don't save your "on button" only for when you're in a presentation or around trusted colleagues.
Practise behaving positively and with purpose at all times at the office and when someone does catch you, they'll see you at your best. Frankly, this doesn't apply only to the workplace. You're an ambassador for the company you represent, no matter where you are.
2. Remember to greet people
Gone are the days of passive worker bees with their heads down humming quietly away behind their computers, no matter what goes on around them.
In today's new "human era", when someone comes near you or your department, look up. Greet the someone. This is especially true when you are the boss entering your department. Greet your employees. Ask them how they are. Listen to their answers. Be nice.
I first heard this line when I initially moved to Ireland: "It costs nothing to be nice."
However, the converse is not true. If you're not nice, it will very likely cost you something. At a minimum, you put your job at risk. Worst-case scenario, you are plunging your entire company into jeopardy.
3. Remember to motivate and inspire
If you have a boss who is not regularly greeting you when he or she enters the office, I'm sure they're not trying to regularly inspire you either. Yet, this is definitely one of their duties.
Don't hold a weekly or monthly update meeting only to drone out last meeting's sales report or next month's projections and targets. Find a way to encourage your team.
Imagine you have been greeting everyone since your last meeting.
At the next meeting, use the names and the rapport you have established to tell a story of a conversation or interaction with them that will capture others' imagination and spark collective interest in the business topics you need to cover.
Link your personal story to the business objective and watch how much more motivated your team is to make it come true.
The time when you reach leadership status, is not the time to become complacent about communications, it's actually the time to seriously step up.
Speaking of stepping up, this past week, daughter Lulu reached the lofty milestone of becoming a 12-year-old.
"I get to stay up later and watch more mature movies," she declared.
"Perhaps," I countered. "But with more freedom comes more responsibility. It's time to take a step up."
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
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