I enjoy watching golf tournaments, but at one recent PGA event it’s what happened off the course that caught my attention. While watching coverage of the 2015 Humana Challenge at La Quinta, the Golf Channel cut to a scene of former President Bill Clinton shaking hands with a line of golfers and volunteers (The Clinton Foundation co-sponsors the Humana Challenge).
Clinton shook hands with everyone in the group, looked at each person in the eye, and spent a few seconds asking a question or two. A Golf Channel host made a comment that speaks volumes about the qualities of leadership charisma and likability, “Everyone who meets president Clinton says the same thing. He looks you right in the eye. He’s present and fully engaged.”
The Golf Channel also ran a taped interview of the former President conducted by golf analyst David Feherty. Clinton walked into the interview room and immediately complimented Feherty on his show, using specific references of interviews Feherty had conducted. When Feherty was later asked for his impression of the former President, he said: “He [Bill Clinton] is the kind of person who makes you feel like you’re the only person in his world. You’ve got 100 percent of his attention at that moment. It’s a tremendous talent and a nice character trait.”
Study after study in the field of leadership confirms Feherty’s observation—leaders who are perceived as likable, trustworthy, confident, and inspiring are those who make others feel as though they are the most important person in the room. They make eye contact and they pay attention to what people are saying.
Several years ago I wrote a book about the world’s most inspiring leaders. I recall asking an associated press reporter whom he admired the most.
“Oh, that’s easy. Bill Clinton,” he replied.
“Why? Do you agree with his views or you admire what he accomplished?” I asked.
“It’s much simpler than that. I met him at an event and, when he spoke to me, he asked me questions and made me feel like I was the most important person in the room. And get this, Bill Gates was standing right next to him!”
Bill Clinton made a positive and lasting first impression on that reporter.
First impressions are important because studies have shown that people want to do business with people who they like, but it’s difficult to recover from a poor first impression. Other studies show that likable individuals make positive impressions when they give people their full attention. The Wall Street Journal cited a study showing that adults make eye contact 30 to 60 percent of the time in average conversation, but they should be making eye contact 60 to 70 percent of the time “to create a sense of emotional connection.” According to the study, the main culprit of declining eye contact in business conversations is the growing distraction of mobile devices.
In an essay for the Harvard Business Review, management professor Christine Riordan argued that listening is a critical leadership skill, yet few leaders are good at it. “Too often, leaders seek to take command, direct conversations, talk too much, or worry about what they will say next. Additionally, leaders can react quickly, get distracted during a conversation, or fail to make the time to listen to others. Finally, leaders can be ineffective at listening if they are competitive, if they multitask such as reading emails or text messages, or if they let their egos get in the way of listening to what others have to say.”
Riordan points to research that shows ‘active listening’ combined with empathy is the most effective form of listening. Active listeners don’t read text messages while they’re supposed to be listening. They paraphrase what they’ve heard and ask clarifying questions. They make eye contact, nod their heads, and are fully engaged in the conversation.
Being an active listener is the surest way to making a positive first impression and it’s possibly the easiest leadership secret you’ll ever hear. There’s no need to take a course or to read a book on the topic. It’s this simple: Look people in the eye. Be present. Be fully engaged.
Carmine Gallo is a communication, keynote speaker, and author of several books. His latest is Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets Of The World’s Top Minds.
This article was written by Carmine Gallo from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.