Leadership Qualities of First Impressions

By Chris Elliot

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Working for one of the largest employers in my community, I was surprised at all of the alumni from my high school who also worked there. I grew up in a small town about 90 minutes from the city I worked at. My senior class was the largest in school history, with a whopping 135 graduates.

In a meeting at this company, I ran into another graduate from high school. His name was Brian. He graduated a few years ahead of me with my brother. They played on sports teams together and had a decent friendship throughout high school.

During those years, Brian had a reputation for being a pretty good athlete but also an arrogant one. Many thought that he was “a little too big for his britches.”

Leadership Qualities in Question

The meeting we were attending was pretty intense, so I didn’t make any small talk or introduce myself to Brian. I just nodded and politely waved to him. He did not respond, just kept on with the meeting.

After the meeting, he brushed quickly past me without acknowledging me. My thoughts went right back to my high school days. And I would internally nod and think about how right those people were about Brian. “Who do you think you are?” I thought to myself. “You played ball with my brother and came over to my house. Now you ignore me?”

Over the next several months, I ran into Brian in the hallway, and I would send him some sort of greeting, “Good morning” or “How’s it going” without any response from him. He just drifted by me without comment. Every encounter would reinforce my views of Brian.

Whose Leadership Skills?

A few years later, with both of us still at the same company, my father passed away. I again passed Brian in the hallway and waited for the usual dismissal from him. Instead, he stopped and asked, “Chris, right?”

I nodded.

“Did your Dad just pass away?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Are you Jeff’s brother?” He asked. I nodded again. “Wow, I had no idea you were that, Chris Elliott,” and we chatted for a few minutes about my father and brother. As we parted ways, he finished, “Say hi to Jeff next time you see him.”

Suddenly this “arrogant” guy became someone different. In my arrogance, I had assumed he must have known who I was. He must have been intentionally ignoring me and disrespecting me. In reality, he was a busy leader in the organization with much on his mind and didn’t recognize me at all.

In that brief conversation with him, my first impressions changed. I began to understand that it was me who was judging him, not him judging me.

Introspection, a Great Leadership Quality

I now wonder how many little brothers and sisters of my high school or college friends I have failed to recognize. How many times have I passed them in the hallway without realizing it?

As leaders, we need to look at the impressions we have formed about others and ask ourselves what else could be going on that we are not seeing. Sit down and talk to those who you have judged poorly, and see things from their point of view.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. But we have many chances to change the impression we have of others. It lasts as long as you let it last. Take the time to change that first impression.

How Have You Dealt With First Impressions?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Chris Elliot
Chris Elliot
Chris is a practicing Servant Leader with more than 20 years experience helping organizations implement change. In his new book Thought Shredder, he outlines the process that helped him become an authentic leader.
  • Al Gonzalez says:

    Really liked this post Chris, thanks for sharing this story. One of my favorite phrases is:

    “Assumptions are gifted liars. What lies are they telling you today.”

    This post is a great reminder to verify our assumptions before we believe them. This may be the best way to serve those we “think” are disrespecting us. Do you deal with the issue of assumptions in your book?

  • Chris Elliott says:

    Al, my book is all about bad assumptions from my childhood that affected me greatly in adult life. The ultimate lesson was forgiveness.

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