No Bad Days Allowed


I  just flew to New York with Dan Rather. To be clear, I wasn’t traveling WITH him exactly, but he sat in front of me and we ordered the same snack, so I felt as if we were having a similar adventure.

From the corner of my eye I watched Mr. Rather read several newspapers from cover to cover.  Everyone else was on their phone, ipad, or laptop, so the old school consumption of news seemed quaint.

Then I watched him bust out his blackberry and type away.

What? He lost me there.

Not only do I not know anyone who uses a blackberry, I’m not sure I know anyone who knows anyone with that device.

Sheesh…time for an upgrade Dan!

Then I couldn’t help but notice how courteous he was to the flight attendants and the guy sitting next to him – a real gentleman.

That’s it.

A pretty boring story as celebrity sightings go.

But on reflection, what’s telling about the encounter wasn’t what happened, but what I did.  The starting point is five little words nestled in the narrative above:

“I couldn’t help but notice…”

After years in the television business, I’m no celebrity stalker but even so, I do notice what people do when they are seated in front of me.

I pay attention and I know I’m not alone.  I watched every person who passed dart their eyes his way.  I saw multiple people “sneak” pictures (guilty) and hover nearby to say hello.

I guarantee if Mr. Rather had behaved unbecomingly, everyone with a gogoinflight account would have been telling the world their story. We’ve seen how quickly a web fire spreads; if Dan was having a bad day, we’d hear about it.

Imagine that kind of pressure. There’s something about it that feels unfair.  Who can possibly be on their best behavior Every Moment of The Day?

And yet, that’s what we demand. No frustration, no sarcasm, no biting remarks allowed.  We want people to look presentable, punctuate their tweets properly, and always have a smile on their face.  There should be no belittling, rushing, or brusqueness.  Only smiles, thoughtful words and kind gestures.

Apparently people will also judge you based on whether your technology is current. (ahem...)

This isn’t exclusively a celebrity phenomenon; leaders of all stripes face this pressure daily. The truth is, if you’re a leader, your actions are under similar scrutiny. People “can’t help but notice” how you behave when you’re in their midst.

They pick up on your tone. They notice if you’re being thoughtful, and they most certainly notice if you’re being rude.

If they know you well, you’re more likely to be given grace if you’re moody.  However, you need to know that most people WON’T know you well, so they are more likely to judge you on their one encounter.

Though no one can prevent you from having a “bad day,” you should realize that each time you do, you undermine perceptions in your self-control and possibly overall leadership competency.

Sure, this is unfair, but life in general, and leadership in particular, isn’t fair.