How do you create a lasting impression? Whether you are in sitting in a job interview for the position you really want, taking a call from a potential client, or preparing for an exit interview during a downsizing, you need to make the very best impression that you can.
In 2001, Meg, a woman I did not know previously, contacted me with a question about her business. I gave her some answers and also some coaching advice for her son. We talked just a couple of times and we might have exchanged two or three e-mails until our correspondence went silent after a year or two. On May 2, 2008, I got a call from a woman named Lori Ann who told me that her friend Meg suggested she call me. Lori Ann was seeking an executive coach to help her with a career transition. I was a little stunned that Meg still remembered me after almost seven years and that she gave my name to Lori Ann (she hired me).
In 2002, I was asked to be the chair of the first Executive Coaching Track for the ICF International Conference (International Coach Federation). One day, I was on a conference call with the other chairs of the other committees developing learning tracks; the issues being discussed gradually became confused and the interactions weren’t productive. To bring about some order to the group, I stated, “I don’t mean to be confrontational; I do mean to be direct” and went on to make a few suggestions. A few weeks later, the chair of the New Coaches committee called me to talk about executive coaching. And he mentioned that he thought my statement so succinct and to the point that he wrote it out and posted it above his desk.
Last October, I traveled to Los Angeles to attend my very first high school reunion. The Saturday evening event started with Stephan, a co-chair of the event, welcoming the 125 in attendance, reading a list of those who were not able to attend, and remembering those who had passed away recently. He went on to share a list of the locations people came from in order to be present. Since I had traveled the furthest, he read my name last and, much to my surprise, the banquet room echoed with applause. “How nice,” I thought. Yet, there was another thoughtful gesture; one that moved me to tears. A woman walked up to the table where I was sitting and asked if I was at the table. As I was standing up, she said, “My name is Edna and I heard Stephen announce your name. I just came over to thank you. You were the nicest person to me in high school.” (Read more about my reunion in “The Roots of Leadership.”)
How do you make a lasting impression in a job interview, in the workplace, or with friends while you are working to be a leader? Since I was a child, I had tried being someone else behind a patina of what I saw as acceptable. That really didn’t work for me; I kept on stumbling over the obstacles that I set up for myself of trying to live up to others’ and my own expectations. (Read more about my background in “Diversity of Social Class.”)
Below are some basic ideas to help you create a lasting impression:
Be yourself. Authenticity is a key to being a leader others want to follow, to being an effective manager employees will respect, to being a job seeker an interviewer wants to hire.
Be grateful. See the glass half full and not half empty. This simple mental image can make a world of difference in your attitude toward developing perseverance and overcoming challenging situations.
Be hopeful. I start almost every e-mail I write with a “Hope you are….” then fill in the rest of the sentence with reference to the weather, the season, or a similar topic that the receiver and I have in common. I want the best for those with whom I communicate via electronic messages. I hope for their best day, weekend, etc.
Be sincere. There have been so many times at a professional gathering when someone looked me up and down then said, “Oh, great outfit,” with a look that told me, “She really doesn’t know how to put an outfit together. I saw those clothes three years ago in stores.” “I like the colors you chose” is a complement, a sincere way to avoid judging how I put an outfit together and instead, commenting on the colors I chose. If the colors really didn’t work, comment on a pin, a pair of earrings, or the weather. Be sincere, though, with anything you say.
Be open to growth. Look inside yourself and ask, “What more could I be saying during this conversation or at work that I’m not comfortable with saying?” Push yourself to get out of your comfort zone and take a chance to make your voice be heard.
Dance in the moment. I love to dance but I don’t get on a dance floor often. However, when coaching, consulting, speaking for an audience, or teaching a class of students, I am ready to do what needs to be done on the spot by dancing to the beat of the client’s needs. I’m not spontaneous as much as I am in the moment to follow the steps that have worked for me before or are related to previous work that I have done.
‘Dancing’ is a term that can help you be in-the-moment and authentic. Most of all, it’s a good approach to make a lasting impression while you are working to be a leader.