On life…and learning

People Observe Leaders All The Time…

with 7 comments

ObservationA chance encounter over my last blog introduced me to a young employee at my workplace today; she was following my blog and knew me, though we had never interacted earlier. During a very brief conversation that we had today, I realized a very powerful thing – people observe leaders all the time! She shared her observations and mentioned an incident where she noted one of my traits, which helped her form a view about me.

That conversation left me thinking; in large size organizations of modern times, people observe us all the time. And they do so even more specifically in case you’re holding a leadership position. I was forced to ponder – I manage human resources for over five thousand people and if in all these years I met each of them just once, that one happenstance would have defined their memory, their reflections. It doesn’t matter whether that encounter was good, bad or just plain simple indifference; their opinion is made, probably forever.

That made me wonder about many more who just observe us from a distance; people with whom we never even interacted, they too form an observation. They do so by simply following what you say to others, how you say it, and sometimes, by the way you treat your people. All of these pass a message to these observers, what you are, how you operate, what works with you & what doesn’t, et al. Moreover, each of these messages from a leader carries a distinct weight because of the authority of the position behind it. Now, that’s something, isn’t it? Think of it, if relationships are the key to build sustainable businesses and chart the growth of self and organization, these observations go a long way in establishing your credibility and acceptance as a leader. Your mood swings, your positivity and negativity, your smiles and frowns, your warm handshakes and shining eyes, your rude demeanor and a curt nod – people would remember those actions and conversations, which you may yourself forget. And basis these memories, some of these people will write your legacy one day…

Let me share an example. I travel to a lot of stores, located across over hundred cities of India. I walk the aisles, talk to customers, meet and greet some associates. I mostly speak with them individually and sometime address them as a group, albeit never for over 2-3 minutes and certainly couldn’t get to speak with each & every associate working in these stores, yet, I notice everyone working on the floor observes their HR leader so keenly. I am sure even those minutest, tiniest conversations, behaviours and actions get noted and remembered by most of these associates. And since I don’t get to visit the same location for more than twice a year and certainly never during the same shift-hours, there is a great possibility that the associates I meet won’t see me again for good six-to-twelve months and hence, those memories for the last encounter become their final ones! I am sure, this example would be true for many of you, of course in different settings.

Now, I am not advocating we take every step keeping in view what others would think or opine; that would be too difficult for a leader. Yet, it is indeed important for all leaders to consider themselves as a ‘message‘ – every time you say something, behave in a particular manner or even use a specific word, ask yourself, does that convey your values, your thought-process and what you wish others to note and follow? Or do you end up conveying something else? I am sure that’d help you send the right ‘message‘ every time.

My learning of the day is a big one – there are ‘no casual actions, no casual conversations’. Your words and actions carry a lot of weight, especially when you carry the baton of being a leader. The remarks you made while walking the hallway, jokes you shared in the cafeteria, words written in emails/text messages and social media, even which of the posters made you stop & read the noticeboard – all these actions and gestures are ‘messages’ and ‘vital forms of communication’ and while you are at it, people are making their notes.

Did I make you think? If yes, just think of it, what ‘messages’ did you give out today?


Photo-credit: wemovetogether.me

7 Responses

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  1. Very well said Sir, and I have a point to add here, its not even necesaary whether we knew our leaders before or not… Their actions let us know that this person has Something Special in his or her personality… Something different.. Different enough to stand out of the crowd and make an impact with whatever they do… As the ability to do the complex, extraordinary things in a simple way.. And doing the ordinary things in an extraordinary way defines our ability to lead and inspire.

    Sunanda Sharma

    April 9, 2013 at 7:37 AM

  2. Very well said, specially in support functions like HR it makes a lot of difference. The perception or image they carry after meeting you stays for long….

    Rohit Bhatia

    April 10, 2013 at 6:14 PM

    • Thanks, Rohit. Though I don’t agree that HR is a support function, your thought is valid nonetheless.


      April 10, 2013 at 6:20 PM

  3. It has come as a surprise, innumerable times, how some people can influence your thoughts and your actions. Especially those, you haven’t worked with directly, or have had a limited interaction. What is it, I ask myself, in these individuals that makes one want to meet them, hear about them, think about them or listen to them. Is it the way they talk (does he/she need to be a powerful orator), or what they talk (does it have to be filled with facts-figures-statistics-data). It’s perhaps both of these, and a lot more. An impact is created, when a particular thought gets corroborated with experiences, re-inforcing the belief of “this-guy-has seen-it-done-it”. Combined with it, probably, is the use of a simple vocabulary, laced with wit, sarcasm, humour, the innate ability to underplay the leadership position (designations can be pretty intimidating, if you ask me!), and the flair to behave as “mere mortals”. A smile, a nod, an acknowledgement, an observation, a personalised phrase (beyond the customary “Thank-You”, “Good-Job”, “Well-Done”).

    Simple words, with a wealth of meaning, I’ve heard at different stages of my career, from leaders across levels, across functions, across organizations;

    “I don’t need an answer, you do”.
    “For every situation, you can choose to act – responsibly or resentfully”.
    “You were probably at your best today, but I’m sure I haven’t seen it yet”.
    “The day people stop coming to you with issues, you’d know that they they’ve either lost the confidence that you can help them, or concluded that you don’t care”.
    “Take a stand, but be sure why you are standing by it”.
    “It’s okay if you fail”.
    “It’s important to be candid, without being offensive”.

    And many more like these. And they’ve all come from the briefest of interactions (many a times, from someone sitting a world apart), but have left a lifetime of impressions. Somewhere, along the way, I have learnt to explore, experiment and challenge myself, take risks and damn the consequences. There have also been humbling experiences, when I have gone back and explained a particular behaviour (usually unpleasant) to someone, and have seen the awed look on their face, before it broke into a smile and ended up in a much better relationship than ever before, along with a renewed respect, which I know will last for a long time. All because of a simple, “Be kind and gentle to your people, and be generous to faults”.

    I know, I would have been a very different person, had it not been for these “obscure and transient leaders”. And I won’t say a thank-you to them, as it would be grossly inadequate.

    I can probably, however, hope that our paths cross, and I get to interact with them again.


    April 14, 2013 at 1:53 AM

    • Hey Rubina,
      What a wonderful thought! You have given a new dimension to the blog and I am sure readers will benefit from the simplicity and candidness of your views.
      I completely agree that observers monitors everything in their ‘leaders’, they hang on to every word said and every gesture made; that is indeed a huge responsibility on the shoulders of a leadership-aspirant.
      I am also glad you mentioned: “Be kind and gentle to your people, and be generous to faults”. So true it is, isn’t it?
      Do remember, you may not be able to choose your boss, you can always choose your mentors!


      April 14, 2013 at 12:12 PM

  4. Very true indeed! Unconditional leadership, I’d call it 🙂


    April 14, 2013 at 12:19 PM

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