I’ve been around a lot of leaders – some great, some not so great, and some who are amazing. The differentiator? The amazing leaders always pass the dinner table test.
So, what is the dinner table test?
The idea is that traditionally, we share our highs and lows of the day when we sit down at our dinner table. It is a place where we can take our gloves off, let our guard down, and share our candid thoughts and feelings with those with whom we are closest.
As someone who began their career in public relations, I was taught by mentors and leaders that anything I say in a professional setting should be carefully chosen and to leave everything else for “the dinner table.”
This concept has always stuck with me and I always think about making it into the dinner table conversations and being a part of the highs of someone’s day, and never part of the lows. Being a leader myself, I’ve always thought of my actions as a true reflection of my character.
To me, it’s important to make it to someone else’s dinner table, because it means I am making an impact. It is even more important to be a part of the highs because that means I am making a positive impact – something I strive to do every single day.
After giving this a lot of thought and recently having to make a tough decision, which could have landed me a spot in someone’s conversation on either end of the dinner table conversation, I came up with a few questions you can ask yourself as a leader, to determine if you and your actions will pass the dinner table test.
- Am I making a difference? As the adage goes, people don’t always remember what you said, but they always remember how you made them feel. I can recall a few leaders in my past who have said some demeaning things and the absolute content of their remarks is fuzzy, but the resulting emotions are clear as a bell. So, to be part of the highs of the dinner table conversation, are you making a positive difference?
- Did I provide an option for solutions and not just deliver problems? This is a great attribute that I was taught when I was in grad school. My boss said to me, “When you hit a challenge, work through it. When you come to me to tell me what you found, I expect you to share the challenge, but give me a solution. Don’t leave me to figure it out completely on my own.” Case in point, when I had to let an assistant go, I didn’t just tell her that she no longer had a job. Instead, I reached out to a few contacts to find opportunities, gave her feedback on her resume, and worked with her to identify new opportunities. Even though I did present her a problem, I also did my best to help her find a solution. Hopefully, this put me in the content of the highs of her dinner table conversation.
- Do I really care [about things beyond myself]? A lot of being a great leader can be attributed to caring. It could be that you care about the greater good of the organization, the individual, or the overall mission. But, the bottom line is that you care about something beyond yourself (notice I wrote beyond, not besides) and therefore, it shows. Others will see that you care, know that you care, and view you as a caring person. Caring will absolutely get you a passing grade on the dinner table test.
Depending on the type of leader you choose the be, keeping in mind that you could be making an impact and be a part of someone’s high moments, the dinner table test is one that might help in decision-making or guide some of your actions.
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Do Your Leadership Skills Pass The Dinner Table Test?