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Christopher Thompson's Closing the Deal: Leadership affects dinner table conversation

March 01. 2014 12:28AM

Fifteen years ago, when I took on my first management role and became responsible for the success of others, I was taught a very valuable lesson. It's a lesson that to this day, is still buried deep in my mind and one that I think about almost daily. Everyone has memorable teaching moments they were exposed to that had a profound impact on their career, and I wanted to share one of mine.

I'll never forget the scene. When I was promoted to a manager, my boss called me into his office, sat me down and congratulated me. He expressed his confidence in my abilities and assured me that he would do everything possible to help me succeed. He went on to offer me his definition of what real leadership meant and shared what he considered to be the core characteristics of leaders.

Then he said, "Effective today, you are the topic of conversation at the dinner table of every person on your team." At first I was a little puzzled and didn't know what his point was. He went on to explain and said, "When people on your team get home and sit down to eat with their family, the first question they will likely be asked is, how was your day?" Their response to that question and the conversation that follows will be directly influenced by your interactions with them as their manager and leader.

I was blown away and immediately recognized the seriousness of my new role. Sure, I was now responsible for the performance of a team, but it was more than that. It was personal. Very personal. And it's something I still think about at the end of every day.

Those simple sentences directed at me that day became the foundation of my management and leadership approach and gave me one of the most valuable and important lessons in leadership. It's all about the people.

Leadership is about many things. It's about driving business results. It's about helping people reach their full potential. It's about creating an environment where people can be successful.

But in my opinion, it's so much more than that.

Leadership is a people business. It's about having a passion for people and caring about them as individuals. It's about looking past assumptions you have and bringing out the true potential in everyone you manage and lead. Leadership means you are willing to put everything you have into ensuring the success of the people on your team.

And most importantly, leadership is about recognizing the impact you have on people not only in their professional life, but also when they leave their job and go home to their family.

It's fair to say that we've all had experiences working for leaders we truly admire and also working for leaders that should be legally barred from managing anyone. And for what it's worth, it's not necessarily about liking them.

The key question I like to ask is, did that particular leader challenge you, help you grow and help you become better at what you do? Put emotion aside and answer that truthfully. That's what leadership is all about.

Leadership is a hot topic, and it always will be. It applies to every company, every team and everyone who has a career. For those in a leadership role, I challenge you with this simple question.

What do people on your team say when they sit down at the dinner table with their family?

Christopher Thompson ( writes Closing the Deal weekly for the Sunday News. He is the vice president of sales and services for Leadership Solutions at Skillsoft, a Nashua-based provider of learning solutions.

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