Last(ing) impressions

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, the saying goes.

That’s what my father told me, at least, and it’s a principle I’ve tried to live by throughout my life and for the past 20 years as a working professional.

More recently, however, I’m reminded that the last impression — the one you leave — is as important, if not more so, than the first.

In The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner examine the actions and behaviors of “managers” and “leaders” in a variety of situations.

Based on interviews with 60,000+ business people, Kouzes and Posner determined that managers enforce policies to ensure organizations operate as efficiently as possible; leaders drive change in organizations. Management is a control function; leadership is a transformational process.

Working from the perspective that leaders are made, not born, Kouzes and Posner conclude — as I recall through my muddled memory of b-school discussions and two corporate leadership seminars in the early naughts — that leadership takes place through conversations with the people they influence. As a result, a leader is only as successful at driving change and transforming organizations as his or her last conversation.

Likewise, our reputations — the parts that precede us and the impressions we make during subsequent interactions — evolve over time and dramatically affect our short- and long-term success.

Yet as I think about it, my father’s advice somehow sticks with me more than Kouzes and Posner’s conclusions.

I always try to make a good first impression, but I rarely reflect on the impressions I leave. And, when I do it’s only after I’ve observed a startled look, a confused expression or some other non-verbal cue that makes me question my actions — or when someone I know brings it to my attention.

What about you? When you reflect on the personal and professional relationships that are most important to you, what impressions do you leave? What lessons have you learned? Continue the conversation….