As a small business owner or boss, your words--and more importantly, your actions--are constantly on display: People watch, people notice. You casting an outsize shadow is both natural and inevitable.
Hold that thought.
On Sunday, Lewis Hamilton won a rain-soaked Turkish Grand Prix, setting a new record of 94 Formula One wins and tying Michael Schumacher's seven world championships.
Hamilton's obvious talent made success seem like a foregone conclusion, but it was anything but. Like all motorsports, F1 is a sport where money often trumps ability. But when Hamilton was young, his father exhausted the family's savings, mortgaged their home, and worked three jobs to keep his son racing.
To make the challenge even harder, Hamilton is a Black man in an overwhelmingly White field. In fact, he's the only Black world champion in Formula One's 70-year history.
"It is no secret that I have walked this sport alone as the only person of color here," Hamilton said Sunday. "When I was younger, I didn't have anybody in the sport that looked like me. So it was easy to think that's not possible to get there because nobody of your color has ever been there. You don't see any Black people in F1."
Hamilton has become the sport's most vocal and influential voice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, an opportunity he doesn't take for granted.
In an Instagram post, Hamilton wrote:
This year I've been driven not just by my desire to win on the track, but by a desire to help push our sport, and our world, to become more diverse and inclusive. I promise you I am not going to stop fighting for change. We have a long way to go but I will continue to push for equality within our sport, and within the greater world we live in.
Equaling Michael Schumacher's record puts a spotlight on me that I know won't be here forever. So, while you're here, paying attention, I want to ask everyone to do their part in helping to create a more equal world. Let's be more accepting and kinder to each other. Let's make it so that opportunity is not something that is dependent on background or skin color.
The phrase, "while you're here, paying attention" is especially important. Hamilton realizes he has a platform. Hamilton realizes people notice what he does on the track and what he says off the track.
Hamilton realizes that right now, people pay attention to him.
Just like they pay attention to you.
While They're Here, Paying Attention.
As a business owner or boss, you're constantly on display. Not just for the job you do, but for other things, whether important or unimportant: How you greet people. How you interact with people. How you lead. How you follow. How you listen, speak, provide feedback, and accept input.
Or what you wear. What kind of car you drive. Whether you use a Styrofoam cup instead of a mug, and what that might say about your environmental consciousness.
Say you're in a meeting and you take a call from your significant other. Since they rarely call you at work, you want to make sure nothing is wrong. Do that and a few employees might assume you're family-oriented. But others might think you feel your time is more important than theirs.
But what if you hit "ignore"? Do that and those same employees might assume you're not family-oriented, and your company is not a family-friendly company--even if you knew your partner planned to call at that time to leave a message.
Because everyone is watching, two relatively insignificant actions can result in a number of different impressions.
When you're under a microscope--when people are, as Hamilton says, "Here, paying attention"--it's amazing what can be read into the smallest things.
One interaction doesn't necessarily send a major signal, but when your business is large enough and your employees only see you occasionally, that one experience can form their entire opinion.
This creates both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to try to have as few "bad days" as possible. The opportunity is to take advantage of the attention you naturally receive to make the world a slightly better place.
Maybe you'll serve as an example for social awareness and justice. Maybe you'll serve as an example for sustainability and environmental consciousness. Maybe you'll serve as an example for diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity.
Or maybe you'll "just" serve as an example for treating everyone around you with courtesy and respect.
You can try to be a little more accepting. You can try to be a little kinder. You can do everything possible to make sure opportunity, inclusion, and dignity are not dependent on background, skin color, or any other irrelevant factor.
Do that and your employees will notice.
Because they're here, and they're paying attention--and they'll keep paying attention for as long as you work together.
And they will hopefully emulate a little of the shadow you cast.