What does it take to be a successful leader? Tim Sanders, author of The Likeability Factor, answered that question at the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting’s annual meeting, held recently in Washington, D.C. The takeaway: If you have an Ayn Rand, dog-eat-dog approach to business, it’s time to reconsider. A new day is dawning in the business world in which leaders will need to be “emotionally attractive,” said Sanders.
The reason is both a matter of integrity and biology. Since World War II, the human brain has been changing on the emotional front, said Sanders. The amygdala, which coordinates emotions, has grown 0.5 of one percent—“physiologically remarkable,” he said.
“Being financially attractive [is] not enough,” said Sanders. “If you want to be successful over time, you have to develop a new skill … emotional talent.” Emotional talent translates into how well you’re liked and—this is key—how well you consistently produce “positive emotional experiences” in the lives of others, including your staff, prospects and clients. Here are practical ways to boost your emotional talent:
• Establish consistent friendliness. Over time consistency counts far more than first impressions, said Sanders. But, life’s disappointments often dampen our resolve to stay consistent. To stay on track, Sanders suggested cultivating a sense of gratitude. “I’ve never meet a truly grateful business person who is unfriendly,” he said. When you’re upset, write down three things you’re grateful for in your job and your role with your company. If the mood returns—and it will—pull out that handwritten sheet of paper. There’s nothing like your own handwriting to confront you with truth.
• Smile back. It’s easy to smile at top producers and customers, but how often do you smile at temp workers and other “low-level” staff? On average, we get smiled at 15 times a day, but we smile back less than five. The other 10 times we look away. Are you afraid that smiling at your assistant will be interpreted as a sign of weakness? Or, that you’ll be perceived as a pushover? Forget it, said Sanders. It’s about building synergy. It’s also a way for others to determine if we’re really in it for them, or just for ourselves.
• Be kind over email. “Email etiquette is the future of emotional value propositions at companies,” said Sanders. His first bit of advice: Stamp out “reply to all.” It creates a cross-post, until finally, others are left with 35 unnecessary emails in their BlackBerry. And it’s a huge drain on bandwidth. Also, never send an email to an employee at a time you wouldn’t call her on the phone. “Wait till Monday—give people their weekends and holidays and anniversaries off email,” said Sanders. Lastly—and most critically—if you feel any strong emotion while you’re writing an email, remember: 80 percent of angry emails you’ll ever send in your entire life are replies to someone. So, before you send an “angry-gramme,” delete the name in the recipient line, then hit “send.” When you get that “delivery error” notice, you’ll have one last chance to ask yourself: Do you really want this to live forever on someone’s blog?
• Establish relevance. “Carnegie said it and I’ll adapt it: You will accomplish more in the next two months by developing an interest in two people than you will in the next two years trying to get two people interested in you,” said Sanders. He cited the late Elmer Letterman—in his day, the most successful life insurance salesman in New York City. In the 1930s, Letterman would book a table at Manhattan’s Four Seasons for three of his customers who should meet: for example, the person who wants to be a chef, the person who builds restaurants and the banker. The bottom-line: Rise above product and become a relevant connector of human beings.
• Establish empathy. Empathy is treating other people’s feelings as “facts,” said Sanders. It is based upon deep listening and the ability to pick up on more than words. For instance, in a moment of sadness, a person will not always frown or tell you about her feelings. But she will always tip her head to the side five to seven degrees. That’s because in a moment of sadness, the spine relaxes. “Powerless listening,” he added, is also important. In a situation in which someone else is afraid—something you’ll no doubt encounter among your customers and employees—you have to learn to say, “I’m sorry.” Period. No trying to talk someone out of her emotions with, “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
• Lastly, be real. “There’s nothing more important than being real,” said Sanders. “All of these changes start in your mind and your heart. If you want to have integrity, you’re going to believe the following statement: You like—you love—people not because of who they are, [but] because of who you are.”