CreditEarl Wilson/The New York Times
While most people associate the term manners with this definition:
3 (manners) polite or well-bred social behavior: didn’t your mother teach you any manners?
• social behavior or habits: Tim apologized for his son’s bad manners.
That’s actually definition 3, definition 2 is more relevant to founders:
2 a person’s outward bearing or way of behaving toward others:
And I translate that definition into two words: consideration and respect. I learned about manners at Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. There the editors and executives all treated the authors of educational materials with utmost consideration. After all authors were the talent, without authors a publisher is nothing. And I found that treating others with consideration and respect is actually quite easy once you make it into habit. Unlike the golden rule – treat others as you want to be treated – which I’ve always found to be wrong. The way to be considerate and respectful is to treat others as they wish to be treated. That’s much more difficult to do, as what you want for yourself is not necessarily what others want. So a key element in attracting, retaining, and managing talent is to understand what they want – more specifically in a business setting what motivates them. And as the saying goes “different strokes for different folks.” So the key to be a great talent manager is to be able to ascertain what truly motivates each of your staff individually and to recruit only people who are motivated by the core values and corporate culture of your firm.
One simple way to demonstrate consideration and respect for others is simply showing up on time for meetings. You’d be surprised how many of my mentees show up late, leaving to us to try to track them down. The most common reason is “I got lost; I couldn’t find your offices.” There is no excuse for this. If you are going somewhere you’ve never been before don’t rely just on Google maps or directions from some random person on the street: go to the source. Call the office you are going to and ask them for directions. And if you plan to take public transportation, confirm with them the closest transit stop. If going by car, inquire about parking. And allow yourself some buffer time. Better to be early than late. This all sounds quite simple and obvious, but it is surprising how many people can’t find their way and then ask a random person, only to get the wrong directions. Showing up on time demonstrates respect; conversely being late can be interpreted as being disrespectful.
Here’s a good example of lack of consideration and respect from an interview in The New York Times Corner Office column with Deryl McKissack, C.E.O. of McKissack & McKissack, an architectural, engineering and construction firm:
What career and life advice do you give to new college grads?
I think about this a lot, particularly with millennials. They are extremely smart, because they have access to a whole lot more information than we did when we were that age. But with that comes a little bit of arrogance, and over time, the idea of respect has been watered down.
I’ve had a millennial on my staff just walk into my conference room while I’m sitting there with a board member and say, “Deryl, I meant to tell you this. …”
It’s because they’ve never been taught that there are boundaries. My mom always taught me about boundaries. But millennials don’t really have that. The respect part is not there.
If they could capture all of that great knowledge that they have and layer on top of it some respect for people who might have a bit more wisdom, I think that would be a good idea. Or how about just listening to your boss and respecting your boss?
Another surprising lack of manners in mentees is their failure to bring pen and paper to a meeting and end up having to ask for one or both when they realize they should be writing down something important that they learned. And finally, while business cards may seem obsolete they are still the best way to deliver full contact information. Not bringing business cards is yet another common failure of manners.
So while there’s nothing wrong with social manners – please, thank you, excuse me and so on, manners as considerate actions are far more important.
Keep in mind that as a founder you are always going to be judged: by mentors, potential investors, job candidates, board candidates, potential partners – in short everyone you meet.
By treating everyone you meet with consideration and respect you will help create a positive impression and positive impressions add up to reputation, which is your currency as a founder.