Idea Sharing

How Leaders Make a First GREAT Impression!

Want to make the people you lead instantly feel more comfortable?  Want to make the people lead meet instantly feel immediately valued and respected? In short, want to make a great first step in your leadership journey?

The key, according to Amy Cuddy, is to realize that people subconsciously ask themselves one question when you first meet: "Can I trust you?"

"From an evolutionary perspective," she writes in her book Presence, "it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust."

That's why -- especially if you're meeting someone for the first time -- showing that you are skilled, experienced, or capable isn't nearly as important as showing that you are trustworthy and likable.

To make a great first impression, first show that you're someone who can build and maintain great relationships -- and make people feel better about themselves.

How do you make a great first impression in a genuine and authentic way?

  1. Listen 10x more than you talk.

Ask questions. Maintain eye contact. Smile. Frown. Nod. Respond -- not so much verbally, but nonverbally. That's all it takes to show the other person he or she is important.

Then when you do speak, don't offer advice unless you're asked. Listening shows you care a lot more than offering advice does, because when you offer advice, in most cases, you make the conversation about you.

Don't believe me? Who is "Here's what I would do ..." about: you or the other person?

Only speak when you have something important to say -- and always define important as what matters to the other person, not to you.

  1. Shift the spotlight.

No one receives enough praise. No one. Whenever possible, start the conversation by telling the other person what they did well.

Not only will people appreciate your praise, they'll appreciate the fact you care enough to pay attention to what they do.

And then they'll feel a little more accomplished and a lot more important... and they'll love you for making them feel that way.

  1. Give before you receive (and assume you will never receive.)

Never think about what you can get. Focus on what you can provide. Giving is the only way to establish a real connection and a real relationship.

Focus, even in part and even for a moment, on what you can get out of the other person... and you show that the only person who really matters is you.

  1. Put everything else away!!!

Don't check your phone. Don't glance at your watch. Don't focus on anything else, even for a moment.

You can never connect with others if you're busy connecting with your stuff, too.

Give the gift of your full attention. That's a gift few people give. That gift alone will make others want to be around you and remember you.

  1. Don't be self-important.

The only people who are impressed by your stuffy, pretentious, self-important self are other stuffy, pretentious, self-important people.

The rest of us aren't impressed. We're irritated, put off, and uncomfortable.

  1. Show that other people are more important.

You already know what you know. You know your opinions. You know your perspectives and points of view.

All that isn't important because it's already yours. You can't learn anything from yourself.

But you don't know what other people know, and everyone, no matter who he or she is, knows things you don't know.

That makes other people a lot more important than you -- because you can learn from them.

  1. Choose your words.

The words you use impact the attitude of others.

For example, you don't have to go to a meeting; you get to go meet with other people. You don't have to create a presentation for a new group; you get to share cool stuff with other people. You don't have to go to the gym; you get to work out and improve your health and fitness.

You don't have to work with other students; you get to select a great person to join your council.

We all want to associate with happy, enthusiastic, fulfilled people. The words you choose can help other people feel better about themselves -- and make you feel better about yourself, too.

  1. Don't discuss the failings of others.

People are naturally drawn to train wrecks.

The problem is, we don't necessarily like -- and we definitely don't respect -- the people who enjoy sharing other people’s failures.  Don't demean other people. When you do, the people around you wonder what you are saying about them when they are not there.

  1. Finally, admit your own failings.

Incredibly successful people are often assumed to have charisma simply because they're successful. Their success seems to create a halo effect, almost like a glow.

The key word is seem.

You don't have to be incredibly successful to make a great first impression. Scratch the shiny surface, and many successful people have all the charisma of a rock.

But you do have to be incredibly genuine to be remarkably charismatic.

Be humble. Share your screwups. Admit your mistakes. Be the cautionary tale. And laugh at yourself.

While you should never laugh at other people, you should always laugh at yourself.

People won't laugh at you. People will laugh with you.

They'll like you better for it -- and they'll want to be around you.  Empathy is a key to making that great first impression.

Seven Mistakes Hindering Kids from Becoming Great Leaders

So many who read our blog posts work with students, and many of you develop student leaders. Our goal is to help you in that process.

After consulting with both high schools and universities this past year, I noticed several common traps that ambushed young leaders (student leaders and young professionals) during their first year of leading. Several students who fell into these “traps” ended up quitting their leadership position, due to frustrations or unmet expectations from fellow students. More than once, I heard the phrase from students: “OMG! This leadership thing is harder than I thought it would be.”

There may never have been a truer statement.

So, let me offer seven of the most common mistakes young leaders make, so you can spot them when they happen and perhaps even prevent them this year.

  1. Mistake One: We keep our head down and get lost in our work.

Often, students are given leadership positions because they are “get it done” people. They are result-oriented and high achievers. This is the positive side of the coin. The other side of the coin is—this can push some of them to get completely caught up in the work, and they lose sight of the big picture or the little people. Their personal drive can sabotage their ability to lead a team. It’s been said for years: If you want to travel faster, travel alone. If you want to travel farther, travel together. But—you must go slower to take others with you.

  1. Mistake Two: We forget to stay close to our people.

In the beginning, everything is new and fresh. Leaders are just happy to have teams around them. People are excited; the project is novel and everyone appreciates each other. Over time, we take people for granted. Leaders often make the mistake of presuming peers don’t need consistent encouragement and feedback. Leaders continue to climb to higher heights and new levels of activity, leaving their team below, in the dust. Effective leaders schedule times to stay in touch with their people. They remember that people tend to get down on what they’re not up on.

  1. Mistake Three: We assume it’s less difficult than it really is.

Experienced leaders know: There’s always more to a job than you first think, especially if you’ve never done it. Often, when I have mastered my work over the decades and assume I know what team members are feeling or thinking, I can lose sight of how hard something is, especially at the beginning. Student leaders can fall into this trap, forgetting what it feels like to be in the dark about how to do something and too afraid to admit you don’t know. It’s always helpful to step into the shoes of a new person and imagine what they feel.

  1. Mistake Four: We neglect to ask for help.

Because leaders are frequently over-achievers, they can easily fall into a very different trap. They begin down a path with a plan, but then it doesn’t work. Or, at least not as well as they felt it would. At this point, they forget they can and need to ask for help from others. Pause and reflect on how we all got to be leaders—by being productive and self-sufficient. Now that we’re leading, it’s up to us to include our team on the journey. Others will assume we know what we’re doing, but remember, good leaders are not loners. Effective leaders remain teachable and have mentors.

  1. Mistake Five: We wear a façade that we’re fine and have it all together.

This is a very similar trap. It’s the truth behind the Habitude®The Fun House Mirror. When leaders don’t know what they’re doing, they can feel inadequate or embarrassed. The last thing they want is to be “found out.” So they project a false image; they exaggerate reports on their progress. They stop being authentic. The distorted image is a little like the image a funhouse mirror reflects when you stand in front of it. Soon, young leaders start telling little white lies; they fudge on the budget numbers; they exaggerate their scores or their followers. Eventually, it all catches up to them. Good leaders commit to staying authentic and communicate honestly where they stand.

  1. Mistake Six: We repeat what we’ve done in the past.

Often, our worst mistake can be to assume that what worked before will work again. Often, I see students too afraid to take a risk or try something new. They simply do what last year’s leaders did, who coincidently did what the previous year’s leaders did. The fact is, the best players often don’t always make the best coaches because they get stuck in the past. Good leaders combine the art of learning from the past, with the art of asking the question: If we started over with this goal, would we do anything different?

  1. Mistake Seven: We feel misunderstood and withdraw from others.

Criticism comes with the territory of leadership. Our first reaction is usually to withdraw from others and feel lonely. Our culture today fosters both a fear of criticism and an ability to hide behind a screen when it happens. The fact is, leaders will get misunderstood. They will get criticized and accused. Good leaders decide—it’s the price tag of leadership and it’s worth it. Thirty years ago, John Maxwell taught me: If I don’t let anyone get close to me, they won’t hurt me. But if I don’t let anyone get close to me, they can’t really help me, either.

The fact is, leadership can be hard and tedious. But it’s worth it. There’s nothing better than achieving something with a team that you could’ve never done alone.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Have you fallen into any of the “traps” above? Which ones?
  2. Are your most common mistakes about dealing with people or with goals?
  3. What might be the best steps you can take in response to your mistakes?