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  • Matt Brown

What sort of shadow do you cast?

Noel Gallagher once wrote the lyric “As he faced the sun he cast no shadow”, but unless he is referring to a vampire this is probably untrue! When it comes to thinking about business Ralph Waldo Emerson is far more accurate:

“An institution is the lengthened shadow of one person”

Our perception of any business is based on our most recent interaction with them, and I can think of several businesses that friends of mine rate quite highly, while my view of them is the total opposite (and vice versa). This is due to one of the basic functions of the brain, it remembers the last thing that happened to it, so our view of what it is like to do business with an organisation will be directly influenced by our most recent experience of dealing with them – which reflect how we were treated by just one individual, in other words the shadow that they cast. In fact, it could go even further, as I have heard of people forming an opinion on a company just, for example, by how a branded vehicle was driven. Jan Carlzon highlighted the importance of every customer interaction in the ‘Moments of Truth’ approach he advocated during his time as President of Scandinavian Airlines, and in his book of the same name:

“Any time a customer comes into contact with any aspect of a business, however remote, is an opportunity to form an impression”

Many businesses focus on monitoring the quality of service delivery for the customer, and this is undoubtedly crucial to ensure repeat business, but in some respects this is dealing with the symptoms and not the cause. Unless you have satisfied and engaged employees you will struggle to have satisfied and engaged customers, as Richard Branson said:

“If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Satisfied and engaged employees will positively represent your business and are more likely to see a customer as the reason for their work, rather than as someone who is stopping them from working. The shadow that satisfied and engaged employees cast will be beneficial to your brand.

The Shadow of the Leader

There is an old adage that people join organisations, but they leave bosses, and although not a universal truth there is definitely substance to this. For most of us the boss is the person who represents the organisation, and our perception of what it is like to work somewhere is directly influenced by them and their shadow as a leader. The boss sets the tone for what is acceptable behaviour at work, for example, if they don’t reply to any emails that you send to them they are (theoretically) saying that it is acceptable to ignore emails. However, it is highly unlikely that you would be able to use this as a reason for ignoring emails, but that then brings us to what I have always considered to be one of the worst sentences that a manager can use, and one that is guaranteed to lose them respect:

‘Do as I say, not as I do’

Here they are relying on Level 1 of John C. Maxwell’s Five Levels of Leadership Model – Position. Effectively people are doing what the boss tells them as they are scared of the consequence of not doing it, hardly the foundation for an effective working relationship.

If you are in a leadership role I would like you to cast your mind back into the distant past and think about your very first day when you were in a role supervising and guiding the work of others. When you were travelling to work that morning you would have given thought to how you were going to try to manage people, what did you base this on? I am pretty confident to state that what you did was to think about the managers you had in the past. You really enjoyed working for A because they were even handed, respectful and invested in helping their people to meet their potential. Conversely you didn’t enjoy working for B as their behaviour was unpredictable, they were quick to anger and would always be looking to apportion blame when anything went wrong – working with B led to you not enjoying the job and influenced you to leave the organisation. The shadows of your previous leaders helped you develop your own management style which reflected the positive characteristics of A and avoided the negative characteristics of B. Ultimately we all become an amalgamation of all the managers that we have worked, for keeping the good bits and, hopefully, avoiding the bad bits!

One last thing to think about.

Who are your people looking at to learn how to be the leaders of tomorrow?

If you would like to know more about this and other Leadership concepts or believe that your managers would benefit from training in this area please contact Develop Your People.

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