I spent this weekend at my 30th class reunion at the University of Virginia. It was a great couple of days seeing old places and old friends, some of whom I’m in touch with regularly, and others whom I have not seen since the day we graduated. Naturally, we all had plenty of stories to share.
Many of those stories were from the years since we left, though there was also plenty of recounting of the memorable events during our 4 years at The University (and yes, its always capitalized like that). More often than not, the end of the story was followed by “Wow, that’s been 15/25/30 years, but it feels like yesterday.” It’s sometimes surprising how much a story or event or passing comment will stay near the front of our minds, and if it’s so important that we remember it clearly even after decades, then it’s probably something that has affected us as we grow over the years.
As a leader, then, it’s worth keeping in mind that many of the things you do and say will have an impact on your employees long after you have gone your separate ways. One piece of advice, one compliment, one action that may seem insignificant at the time, could put someone on a path or create a frame of mind that helps shape the rest of their life. With some of my Air Force friends I recounted a story of some career advice a commander gave me 25 years ago that put me on an amazing path for the rest of my career, and that still affects my decisions today. You can make an impact that lasts a long, long time.
So whether you are a first-time supervisor or a CEO, remember that what you say and do matters. I’m not saying that every conversation needs to be planned and strategized for maximum effect; instead, I’m merely suggesting you adopt a frame of mind that recognizes people will be paying attention to you, and conduct yourself accordingly. Once you move into a leadership role, you cannot assume your actions or discussions are just casual or “off the record.” Your employees may remember what you say and do for a very long time, and tell those stories at their reunions later in life. Whether they remember you in a positive light depends largely on you and the leadership approach you take.