Have you ever noticed that when you’re watching a stage play or musical that even the actors who are not in the spotlight are still in character? They almost fade into the background and yet if they weren’t in character they would stick out like a sore thumb.
The same is true of you as a leader. Even when you’re not in the spotlight you are still on show and the more senior you get the more on show you are. What you do when you’re in the spotlight is important but it’s what you do when you’re in the margins, those times you think you aren’t on show, that are arguably more important.
Early in my audit career I was mortified to find out from a junior colleague that my concentrating face looks angry. To make matters worse I’m a thumpy typer (my husband thinks its a miracle I’ve never broken a space bar) so when I’m in flow I look furious. Not really helpful when I’m leading engagements and need to be approachable.
People laugh when I tell them but what I do is to periodically try to smile to soften my face and failing that, because according to my husband it doesn’t work, I tell people what I’m doing and if I now I’m really going to get into a deep flow I work somewhere, where people can’e see me. Oh, maybe that’s why my boss always used to encourage me to work from home when I was writing reports.
The way you walk through the office, what you do in the lift, how you arrive in meetings, these are the margins. In a virtual space it’s what you’re doing when it isn’t your turn to speak. It’s in the margins that you show who you really are and where you demonstrate what’s appropriate and whats not.
What you do in the margins can also impact your career. I had a coachee who had been deferred from promotion for 6-12 months and was getting coaching to work through the obstacles, one of which was an overly negative outlook. His sponsor commented that when my coachee walked past his office in the morning he looked like the world was ending.
In our 3rd session the coachee admitted that he felt guilty most mornings for leaving his wife deal with getting the kids ready when she was also trying to get out the door to work. We thought through how he wanted those mornings to go instead and the the change was transformational. So much so that his sponsor asked him for tips to help him in his marriage. The guilt had been spilling over into his margins and while no one could fault his work the negativity was impacting his relationships.
So take a moment now to think about what you do in your margins and what message that might be sending about you. Remember, people are looking to you much more than you probably think.