As a leader, your interactions with people intersect across multiple tangents, arcs, and spins. You're "on" all day, from when the alarm goes off and you check your email for the first fires of the day until you leave the office for happy hour.
At each of these touchpoints, concentrating on bringing people together to achieve your goals is a necessary focus. In your role as a leader, it is your job to build a culture and community within the organization. Every interaction has an impact, either good or bad -- there is no neutral impact with leadership.
In every intersection, when encountering different stakeholders, the purpose is different and, therefore, the currency (information, ideas, people) being exchanged has a different value. How often have these questions crossed your mind: How much time do I have? What do they need from me? What do I need from them? Do they count?
These questions, though seemingly innocent, are important to consider. Being able to figure out which questions matter at different junctures -- and how to answer them -- will help you navigate an ocean of interpersonal encounters.
Plan, Pivot, and Don't Panic
Having worked in executive coaching and leadership development globally for more than 25 years, I have witnessed multiple leaders handle formal and informal intersections masterfully as well as horribly. The best leaders tackle them effectively using a few specific strategies.
Here are three pointers to help you adjust seamlessly from audience to audience throughout your concentrated and complex day:
1. Plan for when sh*t hits the fan.
Consider Sunday evenings the "white space" for reviewing the week ahead. Make a plan to prioritize your monthly, weekly, and daily must-do's and align them to your key performance indicators.
Know that, despite the best-laid plans, fires emerge when least expected. When that happens, turn off the emotional spin, your internal noise; put up a metaphorical brick wall with acoustic insulation so that you can see the situation factually to make rational decisions. This does not mean you don't feel emotional. It means you compartmentalize your internal spin so you are able to get the people and business righted.
By focusing on facts, you will be more agile and capable when conversing in the current meeting or conversation you're having.
2. Consider the audience.
As a leader, your access to multiple levels in the organization (internally and externally) is large. Thinking through and knowing what is most relevant to each person in order to meet both his or her needs and yours is an important pre-meeting pause.
Recently, I was facilitating a leadership program in New York City. The majority of people in the room were high-potential Millennials. I am not a Millennial; I'm a Baby Boomer. For the content to be sticky and relevant, I had to adjust my vocabulary, my approach, and my whole demeanor to balance the various expectations of the participants.
In Harvard Business Review's Interact/Harris Poll of 1,000 workers in the United States, 91 percent of employees cited communication issues as the number one reason executives falter.
Focus on thinking through what is relevant to your audience members and how to make the information stick. You want them to continue the conversation with you so you get their input and ownership. You can stay nimble on your feet by knowing your audience, whether they're prospective clients or new staff.
3. Be responsive, not reactive.
How do you handle yourself when issues, problems, and fires arise-- are you reactive or responsive?
To illustrate a leader's ability to shift tone, tempo, and focus: Your morning starts with your direct report, Sheila, talking about her performance improvement plan because she is underperforming. Walking to your next meeting, you have to deviate because the CEO has asked to meet about your bigger budget request. If you don't get it approved, your organization won't meet its deliverables.
During that meeting, you get a text message from HR that Sheila is taking legal action against you for "managing her out." Next, you are interviewing a candidate for a key position. So while you're in a bad mood because you weren't approved for the budget, you have to sell the candidate about how cool the role and company is. And this was just two and a half hours on an Wednesday.
Some version of all of that can happen. Every. Single. Day.
When it does, take a breath. Consider the urgency of the situation before diving into possible solutions. Is the house on fire, or is it bread burning in the toaster? Where's the smoke coming from? Slow things down to do a factual assessment.
You will interact and intersect with multitudes of people every day. To get the most from your team and colleagues, plan ahead by thinking about who is in front of you. If you lose your audience's buy-in, don't panic or overreact -- stay calm and retrace your steps to see how you got there to course correct. Sh*t will hit the fan, so how you handle the situation is as important as how you handle the cleanup.