Eliciting Excellence

What I Learned About Leadership Success from a Ketchup Bottle

Our ability to lead effectively and to influence others is very much dependent upon “who we are” more than what we do or our title. Two leaders can do and say the exact same things but get very different results from their team depending on how they’re viewed by those around them. And understanding how people determine “who we are” is essential to our success.

People form their opinion about who we are based on our everyday words and actions. I call those everyday occurrences, “Moments of Apparent Insignificance”.  And this is where that ketchup bottle comes in…

A great example of how seemingly “insignificant” events or circumstances can make a strong impact comes from the restaurant world. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and picked up a ketchup bottle that was sticky? Or placed your hands on the table and felt it was tacky? Or the restaurant had a slight odor?

None of these issues is especially significant, yet in all likelihood, consciously or subconsciously each created an unfavorable impression. Those impressions might even have caused you not to return to the restaurant, in spite of the quality of the food, how it was prepared and presented, or how well-trained the staff was. Moments of apparent insignificance.

The same holds true for leaders. We always lead by example and people take note of our “insignificant” words and actions. I’ll offer further proof that this dynamic is true. Do you remember an incident or a comment from someone in high school or college? I guarantee that that person doesn’t know you still remember it!

Given that we’re always being observed and we’re always creating impressions, a key to being an effective and influential leader is to be mindful of our words and deeds at all times. How we act and react creates an impression on those around us, and those words and actions help shape people’s opinion of “who we are”.

It’s the kind of thing that can’t be faked. People see right through insincerity. In order to excel as a leader, we need to act with integrity and in integrity. In other words, we need to do what we say we’re going to do and we need to consistently be the kind of person we claim to be. It’s the only way to gain the trust of our team.

In addition, we need to show respect in order to earn respect. We have to value people, treat people like people (instead of like things), and treat adults like adults (instead of like children). Being authentic, transparent and consistent is essential for maximizing effectiveness and influence.

The bottom line is that people respond to us based on who we are, and who we are is established over time by our everyday actions – those moments of apparent insignificance.