7 Keys to Great Executive Manners

By Michele Porterfield

Most everyone learned appropriate manners as a child, with a long list of “dos and don’ts” repeated over and over until they became a habit and a way of living. “Say please and thank you, look people in the eye when you shake their hand, and wait until everyone is seated before you begin eating” are a few that I remember from my early days. While many such manners stand the test of time for how we handle ourselves outside of work, I think it is important to remember that manners also apply to our lives as leaders, particularly at the executive level. Leaders set the tone for what is acceptable and appropriate in organizations, and every move they make is a sign and symbol to those around them. Executive manners don’t show up on any competency model, but they are critically important in terms of shaping the workplace culture and defining what “good” looks like. You may have your own ideas to add, but here are a few executive manners that I think ought to be on everyone’s list.

1. Treat everyone well: Regardless of their level and role, treat everyone you encounter with the same level of respect and courtesy. Say hello in the hallways, ask for input where appropriate, and convey appreciation for their contribution to the whole. If you know someone has truly gone above and beyond, make sure they are acknowledged and rewarded for such.

2. When you are there, be there: Regardless of what is on your plate, commit yourself to be fully present wherever you are. Give others your undivided attention, even if it is just for a 15-minute conversation. Don’t answer your phone, check your email, or allow interruptions.

3. Show up on time: Give others the same respect you expect. Get to meetings on time, and if something unexpected comes up, let the appropriate person know as a signal that you respect their time as well.

4. Apologize gracefully: Vulnerability is a powerful tool for leaders. For big things and small, demonstrate a willingness to apologize for your mistakes. Showing those who look up to you as the senior leader that it is human to make mistakes and important to apologize sends the message that they can and should do the same.

5. Do your part: If you say you will do something, do it. If you can’t truly commit, don’t heighten expectations and then end up letting others down. This includes constantly rescheduling a meeting because you simply don’t want to have it. As the senior person in many situations, you doing your part sets the tone that it is an expectation of others.

6. Communicate honestly: Even the most difficult things can be said with tact and diplomacy. As leaders, we owe it to others to let them know what we are thinking and feeling, even when it is hard to do so. As we all learned as children, honesty is the best policy.

7. Respond in a timely manner: While the sheer volume of email communication these days makes it challenging, commit to getting back to others in a timely manner (e.g., within 24 hours), even if it is simply to acknowledge that you received the email and will get back to them with a more complete response within a reasonable timeframe. Leverage your Administrative Assistant where appropriate to ensure a level of responsiveness and maximize the chance to delegate follow up where you can.

The best part is, none of these ideas are particularly hard to implement. We simply need to be intentional about our everyday behaviors and choose to operate in a way that we want others to emulate. Ultimately, good executive manners demonstrated consistently creates an environment of civility and mutual respect for all, something our world could benefit from today. Remember, the small things are the big things.

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