At the Leadership Footprints group we take lessons and inspirations from two main sources — the research field, bringing us the latest ideas in areas such as neuroscience and influence, whilst studying practical applications in many fields helps us see and hear good performers do and share the lessons with our clients. The combination helps us work with people on leaving the appropriate footprint — in whatever they do.
Recently I had the pleasure of watching a colleague be measured for a suit in one of London’s finest establishments in Saville Row. It was a masterclass in both good sales and client servicing (aren’t they really the same thing?) and in leadership. One person, the tailor, was an absolute expert in his field — he knew all there was to know about making somebody look really good, magnifying their strengths and minimising the impact of their ‘shortcomings’ — the one shoulder higher than the other, less than perfect shape etc. He also had a host of technical knowledge about fabrics, colours etc. The other party, the customer, knew what he wanted to achieve at the end and had some ideas about how to get there.
As I watched the tailor at work I was struck by how much his approach resembled really good leadership and coaching. He was fully present with the client, his focus and attention was clear. Despite his expertise, he had no need to display this in ways that would expose the customer’s lack of knowledge and leave them feeling ‘one down’. He asked open questions of the customer, easily outlining typical options and if asked for an opinion clearly and easily explained his experience. He listened more than he spoke, yet shared the appropriate knowledge at the right time without becoming overwhelming.
Measuring for the jacket was extremely interesting. Using an off the peg prototype as a start point, it was clear that in a significant number of ways my colleagues body shape differed from the perceived norm (and I deliberately say the perceived norm, rather than the norm!). When we spoke with the tailor after his task was done he explained that often he is having to point out things to customers they have never been aware of before and that these ‘flaws’ can be damaging to their self-esteem and actually stop the sale — and in some cases harm relationships, if not handled well. It was a joy to see the tailor at work as he used 360 mirrors, a range of perspectives and angles to help the customer look at himself in a realistic light, showing clearly how nips, tucks, raising this would have big impacts on the overall effect at the end. By mixing questions and short observations and options and their impact he helped the customer be comfortable with the actions and it appeared that the customer made all the choices, however watching from a third party position it was clear the tailor was assisting him to make the right decisions.
By listening to the customer, helping him see things in different ways, sharing the decision making, whilst making suggestions at the right points and managing the interaction well, without the need to show how smart the tailor was, he was able to show real leadership and sales expertise. By knowing the end goal (a smart, well fitted suit which looked good and a motivated and satisfied customer)the tailor left a superb footprint.
What struck me most was how in many fields when I am at meetings or observing one to ones, the senior figure can easily be sucked into showing his or her knowledge and telling — the very things the tailor could easily have done. They often do not have the self-control and focus of the tailor and what happens is that instead of helping their member of staff, client, customer, peer find what they require to fit their shape — they build a jacket for themselves, and then complain when the other party doesn’t make it look splendid!
Many of us settle for off the peg and hope it works. Why not leave the type of footprint that allows others to have something that truly fits — it’s more memorable and satisfying.