I talk to strangers all the time. Elevators, department stores, office buildings, Whole Foods and gas stations are some of my favorite places to engage people in conversation. I've actually met some really interesting people that way. I enjoy hearing people's "stories:" HOW they became WHO they became. It took me years as an executive, however, to really understand the power of my voice – the way the things I said and the way I said them – impacted people's days, sometimes even their lives.

Why should you care? What follows are three brief stories and my points:

It was a day like any other. I was a senior executive at a mid-sized company with a reputation for being good-humored and good-natured, but tough. I loved personally engaging people in my organization whenever and wherever possible regardless of their "level." One Monday morning I was waiting impatiently for an elevator to arrive. One of my direct reports' team members showed up, stood next to me and said, "Good morning Rand." Being lost in thought, I didn't hear or notice him, so he repeated his greeting in a louder voice, which I also didn't hear, "GOOD MORNING RAND!" He then came up to me, literally grabbed me by the shoulders and repeated his "good morning." "Oh, I'm sorry Dick," I responded. "I was lost in thought and didn't hear you." He got to within several inches of my face and said the following: "Look Rand, you have a really "down" look on your face. If something is troubling YOU that much, what are the rest of us supposed to do or think?"

It didn't strike me until later that the way I projected myself – every minute of every day and in every transaction with everyone – needed to be intentional because people took their cues from me. That sounds obvious and the IDEA may be, but the implementation of that idea is not. How could I be authentic and demonstrative of my feelings and still be positive? People expected a certain demeanor from me, and they expected it consistently. It took me some time to reconcile that dichotomy.

Another story: Don Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense during both the Ford and George W. Bush administrations. EVERYONE who worked with, for, near or around him, regardless of their political bent or personal feelings about him, acknowledged one thing: He was (and still is) one tough hombre. Smart, quick, decisive and relentlessly prepared was he, and you'd better be the same.

During an interview, the questioner asked him the following (and I'm paraphrasing, despite the quotation marks): "Secretary Rumsfeld, it has been said that the reason you may not get viewpoints from your senior officers that are actively contrary to your own is that many of them are really intimidated by you. Could that be true?"

In his typically glib fashion, the Secretary grinned and answered (again, I'm paraphrasing): "That's absurd. These are men and women who have gone into combat and had their lives placed at risk. Smart, tough and battle-hardened people. Great leaders. The notion that they'd be intimidated by me is ridiculous."

Actually Mr. Secretary, the notion that these leaders were intimidated by you is not only possible, but likely!!

Another quick story: Dan Snyder is the owner of the Washington Redskins. Prior to his tenure, he had built a fortune from scratch in the business world. By the age of 34, he had already accumulated a net worth of about half a billion dollars. He's also smart, quick and decisive. He's results-obsessed and does not indulge excuses for underperformance.

For about a decade, Snyder employed a gentleman named Vinnie Cerrato as the football team's chief personnel guy. To say that Vinnie's tenure was unsuccessful would be an understatement. When Snyder finally fired Vinnie, he said the following (again, I'm paraphrasing): "One of the primary reasons that I need a strong guy leading the football operation is that he needs to be able to keep me from making dumb decisions – decisions that will cost us games, cost me too much money or make bad choices and compromises." He then went on to say that he was open to being influenced in that way, but that Vinnie either didn't do it or didn't do it well.

The preceding three examples all illustrate the same thing: The power and resonance of a leader's voice. What you say, the way you say it, the way you listen and the degree to which your actions support your words will go a long way to your building credibility as a leader. Your understanding of your power and influence and your judicious use of them will go a long way to determining your success. Your perspective on how well you do those things is a lot less relevant than the perspective of those around you.

When coaching senior leaders who have trouble building teams to march in a unified direction, I often hear them say that their team members "don't get it." My reaction is generally that SOMEONE doesn't "get it," and that it's almost always the leader.

How about you? Do you understand that a sarcastic remark will be interpreted in a variety of ways, regardless of your motives? Do you go to great lengths to understand how each of your people listens? Do you employ dialogue rather than diatribe to influence people? Do your actions mirror your words? Do you get regular feedback, facilitated by an independent party, to tell you how you're doing? For your sake and your organization's, I hope so.

Copyright 2014 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit http://www.randgolletz.com