In a whimsical Newsweek article that speculates on Bill Clinton’s potential role as our nation’s first “First Gentleman” in a White House run by Hillary, writer Carl Sferrazza Anthony makes a good point. While being a former president himself would seem to make the situation awkward for Bill—moving back into a presidential mansion in which he has no legal control—Anthony reminds us that, “Other First Spouses have found…that a seat at the dinner table is often more powerful than one at the cabinet table.” Former First Ladies have been privileged to military secrets and, in Hillary Clinton’s case, even a West Wing office of her own. If anything, Clinton “the male,” will have plenty of opportunities for networking and influence outside the role as a nation’s executive.
This begs the question: How much of a leader’s power comes from having the title, the suite, and the rule of a certain environment, and how much of it comes from being able to work the room in any environment?
To be heard, you have to make people like you. You need to create chemistry—with your staff as a manager, with your team as a project leader, with your boss, with your customer, with your strategic partners. People believe people they like. That’s not a news bulletin. Humanity, vulnerability, courtesy, humor, humility—these traits let people know you’re real and that they can relate to you.
Consider conversations a learning tool. They teach you both intellectual and emotional truth. That said, use them to create circular communication—communication going in all directions. Up the chain. Down the chain. Across department lines.
Bring people together. Be thought provoking. Create value and recognize value in those who influence others to think. Start watercooler conversations to improve processes, save money, make money, discover new markets, or innovate. Find new places to talk to get the creative juices flowing.
Resolve conflict productively, but don’t squelch it. Level the playing field to generate good debate and input, but keep the power balanced. These comments will come in handy: “Give these people a hand for opening the door on a new suggestion.” “We’ll need to thank Teri and Carlos for pointing out our blind spot on this issue—this could have cost us a lot of time down the road.” Set the ground rules so that others learn how to respond constructively to diverse opinions, without interrupting, minimizing, and attacking.
No matter where you are, or what position you may be holding, you can strengthen your leadership by the way you treat people and by the creative, upbeat ways in which you communicate new ideas. If they like you, they’ll listen to what you have to say. If you’re in the breakroom or in the board room, compelling conversations can motivate teams and turn companies around. What are you doing today to make sure that you come in “First”?