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CPBJ Extra Blog

Attention, CEOs and political leaders: You're on stage all the time

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By now, I'm sure the last thing you want to read one more word about is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's viral video meltdown. But bear with me, because there's a leadership lesson here.

When you are the leader of a company — or a city, or a town, or a government agency or whatever else — you are being watched. At all times. Whether you realize it or not.

By whom? By your subordinates, of course.

You set the tone. You show them how to act, what to do, what behavior is acceptable — both on the clock and off.

To use a visual example, let's liken your role to that of a Zumba instructor (or any exercise class of your choice). You are the instructor, and every miniscule move you make is mirrored by your students.

Yes, eventually your regular students will learn the routine and be able to improvise or add their own style to the basics you're demonstrating for everyone. But even those people will falter and doubt their next move if you make an error in the routine.

Now, if you're an excellent instructor and make few errors, you'll be able to apologize quickly, get back in step and have your students' immediate forgiveness (and occasional laughter if it was a particularly entertaining misstep).

But if you consistently make errors, your students will exist in a constant state of distrust and will mirror your actions only half-heartedly as they await your next mistake. After a certain number of errors — it'll be a different number for each student, but they'll all get there — you will lose your credibility, and your students will go elsewhere in search of a better instructor. In other words, they'll find new jobs.

Our Job At the Top blogger, Dick Cross, who is a serial CEO and founder of two private-equity companies, touched on this topic in a post titled "Trust: How your behavior affects buyers' choices." In it, he begins by talking about how today's customers want to buy from brands whose mission they feel they can support.

Then, he moves on:

"Most people running businesses underestimate the degree to which others scrutinize even the most minute detail of their personal behavior for signals of trust. And they underestimate the power of emulation that spreads the models they exhibit throughout the rest of their organizations.

"Accordingly, few pay the assiduous attention required to continuously convey the consistent signals that anchor trust, that they want to have emulated and amplified by every other person in their businesses — and, thereby, to customers, suppliers, bankers and all the others whose opinions matter in sustaining a vibrant enterprise."

Oh, how Rob Ford could have benefited from a 10-minute lesson with Dick Cross.

As Shakespeare wrote, "All the world's a stage..."

You're not just one of the actors in this play. You're the main character, and you're on stage for every scene of your life. Choose your actions and your words wisely.

And don't do crack.

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Amy Gulli

Amy Gulli

Amy Gulli is the managing editor of the Central Penn Business Journal. Have a question or tip for her? Email her at Follow her on Twitter, @amygulli. Circle Amy Gulli on .

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