YOU Set the Tone

 In I Wish I'd Known, Leadership, Managing Your Team

Each month in 2023, I feature one of my top-ten “Things I Wish I’d Known” when I had first started as a manager and leader years ago. This article is my first: Set the right tone.

I recently heard a story that set me back on my heels. It made me a little sad. And to be honest, a little angry, too.

A friend’s son started a new job six months ago. The pay was impressive. The work was right up his alley. He was really excited about it … until he wasn’t. According to my friend, he was miserable within weeks.

“WHY?” I asked, in complete surprise.

“Poor management,” she responded. “They set a poor tone from the get-go. There’s no onboarding. No positive feedback — or frankly, ANY feedback! Nothing to motivate or inspire anyone. The energy of the place is lackluster. No one seems to care about much of anything.”

Well, no wonder. I’d be miserable working there, too!

And what a shame. This employer could’ve created an entirely different experience for my friend’s son … and, I’m guessing, countless others who’ve  walked through an apparently revolving door of employees.

Before I became a manager, I worked in many environments. Some better than others. Some where I felt tired or restless. Others where a boss put “something” in the air that made me want to come to work.

I remember feeling energized and motivated. Back then, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I just knew when I became a leader someday, I wanted to create a workplace like that.

Turns out, that “something” was tone.

Get your copy:

My free worksheet features this month’s theme, “YOU set the tone.”

Tone sets the stage for a positive—or negative—workplace environment. It significantly impacts how your staff members react to you and to each other. It also influences their attitudes toward their jobs.

How could anyone look forward to working at a company like the one my friend described?

When you’re a manager or supervisor, you get to decide what tone you want to set in your workplace.

So, what does “setting the tone” really mean? You might think it’s the expression you wear on your face or the words you choose to speak. And you’d be right. But it’s much more than that.

From attitude to actions—and everything between—the tone you set will reflect your values and leadership style. Your employees will observe it in your body language and the way you treat people.

Power Quote:

“What you do has a far greater impact than what you say.” – Stephen Covey

So, how can you make sure you’re setting the right tone? First, start with self-awareness. Then build from there.

The following two Power Challenges can help you set the wheels in motion! And the first is about self-awareness.

Power Challenge 1: How Do You Show Up?

Have you ever seen a picture of a person looking in the mirror and seeing someone else in their reflection? Entertaining, sometimes. But scary, too.

Here’s my point: The way you actually present yourself as a manager or supervisor may not be the way you think you do.

Since leadership style establishes the tone in the workplace, it’s important to have an accurate “picture” of yours.

Power Question:

Are you aware of the tone you’re setting?

Do you take a fear-based approach to managing others? Or a growth-based approach? Do staff feel you have their back? Do you respect them, and do they respect you?

To inventory how you show up as a leader, grab a piece of paper and jot down:

  1. What three words best describe how you see yourself as a leader? (Be honest!)
  2. What three words might your employees use to describe you as a leader? (Be real!)
  3. What three words best describe how you’d like to be perceived as a leader? (Be open!)

Compare the answers to all three questions. Do you see the same positive word (or words) repeated in all of your answers? If so, congratulations! You’re on your way to consistently showing up as the leader you want to be.

Chances are, though, there may be room for improvement. And that’s okay!

Maybe you’re not as consistent as you’d like to be. Or sometimes you come across as intimidating. Or there’s more you could do to support and encourage new hires.

Embrace your insights as opportunities to grow. Then you can take steps to develop skills and learn new strategies to help you become a stronger leader.

Power Challenge 2: Find Ways to Inspire and Motivate Your Team

Do you want your staff to think of their work as drudgery? Or would you rather they feel inspired … valued and appreciated … happy to come to work?

Throughout my more than 25 years as a leader, I have found setting the right tone includes two non-negotiables: respect and inspiration.

Here are actionable ideas to incorporate respect and inspiration into your leadership and help set a positive tone:

1 – Listen, listen, listen

Everyone likes to feel heard.

When you listen to understand (rather than to quickly respond), you show respect for your employees. The underlying message is, “I care what you think … I’m interested in your ideas … I’m here to help you come up with a solution.”

Pause to really hear what your employee is saying. Then respond with intention.

2 – Show respect and appreciation

Respect is a two-way street. If you want to be respected, you must also show respect for others. Every single person in your company deserves your respect, whatever their position.

You can show respect in many ways. Start by recognizing every person is a unique individual who is more than an employee. They’re parents. Partners. Children of elderly parents. They’re people, who might be dealing with challenging or changing circumstances in their own lives.

Listen without interrupting. Treat everyone fairly. Give people a chance to make mistakes and learn from them. Model accountability.

And, for heaven’s sake when you catch someone doing something right, say something! Acknowledge employees’ accomplishments or growth. Thank them for going the extra mile to make a new hire feel welcome. Or for lending a hand to an overwhelmed coworker.

Related: The Positive Power of Recognition

3 – Share motivational quotes

Quotes—words woven into profound or thought-provoking morsels—can be inspiring and powerful motivators. I have an ever-expanding collection of my favorites. I’ll bet you do, too.

Some of my favorite quotes are:

“It takes no more time to see the good side of life than to see the bad.” (Jimmy Buffett)

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” (Nelson Mandela)

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” (Albert Einstein)

“You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.” (Colin Powell)

“There comes a point when you can only sweep so much under the rug, ’til you feel lumps under your feet and your path seems to become less comfortable.” (Stuart J. Scesney)

“The time is always right to do what’s right.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

“You build your ‘courage muscle’ daily, by being courageous in little things. Just do right.” (Maya Angelou)

Related: The Beautiful Habit of Inspiration

Share your quotes in your workplace! Post them on bulletin boards in the break room. Include them in your staff newsletter. Frame a few and place them around the office.

If you need help finding inspirational quotes, browse through Pinterest, Instagram or websites such as BrainyQuote or Goodreads.

4 – Bring energy, enthusiasm and a positive attitude

I walk into the office on Monday mornings with a smile on my face and enthusiasm to jump into the week.

Truly, Monday is my favorite day of the week. It marks a new beginning —  full of possibilities. As a leader who values positivity, it’s important for me spread good energy to my staff. I want them to feel motivated by it.

Of course, there are a few Mondays where I’m a little low-energy and maybe not presenting my best self. But I don’t let myself stay in that state. That would be setting a low-energy tone for everyone else! I shift within myself — authentically — so I can set a more energized, positive tone.

What Tone Will YOU Set?

As a manager, leader or business owner, you set the tone. The first step is to decide what tone you want to create based on your values and leadership style.

What works for me might not work for you. Your office tone might be more casual—or more formal—than mine. Other factors such as industry, location or company size might influence your tone in different ways.

How you set your tone is entirely up to you. You do you. Just be thoughtful and intentional.

Incorporate your own experience, personality and style as you set a tone that respects your employees … and inspires them to be the best version of themselves.

Need a speaker for a business event or training?

Carla inspires leaders and team members — and provides real-world tips to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today.


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