Lifestyle the December 2013 issue

No Stinking Shoes

If you want others to follow in your footsteps, make sure they want to be in your shoes.
Posted on July 24, 2013

Whether you’re at the top or bottom of the company hierarchy, you have a firm grasp on where you stand in the pecking order. But if you are in a senior level position, you may not have a grasp on the effect your success has on others.

Think back to when you were just starting out and how you felt about those at the top. Were you inspired by their title, their authority and their lifestyle? Did you believe that you stood a chance to achieve the same level of success? If so, then you were lucky. You had leaders that modeled how to achieve a goal and how to handle good fortune.

Yet depending on how those top folks got to where they were and how they conducted themselves once there, you could have been resentful or uninspired. Their conduct may have made you feel there was no way you could ever walk in their shoes, no matter how hard you worked. If their behavior was really rotten, you might not have wanted to be in their stinking shoes anyway.

So how do successful leaders ensure that their success has a positive effect on others? These simple concepts can spell the difference between motivation and disincentive.

Share your secrets, not just your successes. Nothing is more encouraging than hearing top leaders talk about how they made it to the top. We love a good rags-to-riches story and never tire of hearing that someone who was once in our shoes is now walking around in designer footwear. But some leaders err by focusing solely on the footwear (and the cars and the trips and the homes) and not on the secrets to their success.

Sharing these secrets lets others know they stand a shot at your kind of achievement. Tell them about the pivotal decisions in your life, what qualities you developed over your career and other personal keys to success. Tell them about loving your family life and what makes you feel accomplished outside of work. There are some people whose goal is simply to be rich, but most of us are reassured to hear that balance can be achieved.

Know your audience and be sensitive to their situation. If you’re successful in our industry, you are a master of this already. You know it takes time to do the homework necessary to understand who’s sitting across the table from you, to get your message heard and to achieve a positive result. Apply this concept to your staff before you share personal events or experiences. Don’t cross the line that separates inclusion from exclusion without even knowing it.

If you know your staff, then you know that the manager who’s struggling to keep his new baby in diapers and his mother in an assisted living facility isn’t the best audience to regale with tales of your new island vacation home. Telling him your story will only widen the gap between you and him because he’ll know you either don’t know about his financial stress or, worse, that you’re insensitive to it.

Check your motives and your ego. When speaking to someone less affluent than you, think about why you want to share your experience. If it’s anything but to be inspirational, to help someone see their way clear of a tough situation, or to forge a stronger relationship, then think about keeping the information to yourself. If you told the manager who’s worried about his finances that in the early years of your career you struggled mightily to afford the basic needs of your growing family, you have bridged what may have been a yawning chasm. By showing you understand where he is in his career, that you’ve been there and that you can now afford the finer things in life—including that vacation home—you’ve shown him a light at the end of the tunnel.

Keep it about business and give back. There are many ways to inspire others with your success. One of the best ways is to give back by actively helping others become successful. Take your star producer to a big industry event and let her know that the way to get there on her own is to keep up the good work. Use your influence and introduce an up-and-coming leader to organizations that will help position him in the community and the industry. Help him land speaking engagements, board seats and invitations that develop his network and his opportunities.

We all want to be successful in life. If you’re one of the lucky ones, share your success in a way that has a meaningful impact on others. Be a role model on how to enjoy success without appearing elitist or boastful. Remember that telling someone about your accomplishments is one thing, but using your success to help someone make it on their own is a rich reward for both of you.

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