How to make a good first impression

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.  Truer words were never spoken.  Oftentimes, first impressions determine whether you will even get to make a second impression.

We can all recall first meetings that we wish we would have handled differently.  What did we learn from those experiences?

“Psychology Today” magazine gives a few pointers for getting off to a good start when you’re just meeting someone.

Hospitable peopleWhen you’re having a conversation with someone you’re meeting for the first time, you should encourage the other person to talk about him or herself instead of trying to make yourself the center of attention.  For example, the person you’re conversing with is telling you about a trip he or she just took, and that brings to mind a trip when you got terrible service.  You think it’s a great story, but experts warn that you should think before you open your mouth to share such anecdotes.  When you meet someone, you don’t know what kind of impression this type of story will leave.

Also, try to mask any anxiety if you can.  If you have the jitters or talk too fast, you might cause the other person to roll his or her eyes at you.  Again, try to keep the focus on the other person, but be careful that you don’t come off as an interrogator rather than a conversationalist.

What if you are meeting someone for the first time when you are in a bad mood?  Experts suggest you fake your way through the experience.  But isn’t it better to be honest and be yourself?  No, they say, because when you are first meeting someone, instead of seeing this as just a passing mood for you, the person may incorrectly conclude that you tend to be a negative person.  See if you can find something positive to talk about.  If not, apologize for your temporary trouble and hope the other person will give you the benefit of the doubt.

First impressions never count more than during a job interview.  A recent survey of over 2,700 hiring managers uncovered some common mistakes – and a few humorous stories.

First, here are the mistakes they noted.  Asked what kind of no-nos they’d witnessed during interviews, the hiring managers named these blunders:

  • Inappropriate attire – 57%.
  • Boredom or lack of interest – 55%.
  • Criticizing a current or previous employer – 52%.
  • Arrogant attitude – 51%.
  • Answering a cell phone or texting during the interview – 46%.
  • Vague answers – 34%.
  • Not asking good questions – 34%.

The winners/losers in the “Hall of Shame” category included:

  • One candidate wore a business suit and flip-flops.
  • A job-seeker asked if the interviewer wanted to meet later for a drink.
  • The candidate who applied for an accounting job said he was “bad at managing money.”
  • A candidate for a customer service job told the interviewer, “I don’t really like working with people.”
  • One person had to leave because his dog had gotten loose in the parking lot.
  • A job-seeker spent the entire interview staring at the ceiling.

Much of that first impression is based on your body language.  If you want to be seen as a leader right away, show that you mean business in a firm and friendly way.  Raise your eyebrows briefly upon meeting someone.  It’s a subtle, powerful signal that conveys a positive impression, and it takes just one-fifth of a second.  Eye contact sends the signal that you’re interested in what other people are saying.  Just be careful not to cross the line and stare, as that would make you seem confrontational.   Return handshakes appropriately.  Keep in mind that a limp handshake signals a wimpy image, and a crushing grip seems overly aggressive.  Stand tall.  Good posture says you’re self-assured and trustworthy.

I can honestly say I have almost never hired anyone who made a bad first impression on me.  Sure, I believe in second chances, but I also have to consider what kind of first impression that person would make on my customers.  If a candidate makes a bad impression on me, would my customers have the same feeling?

Whether you are looking for a job, meeting a customer for the first time, being introduced to your future in-laws or getting acquainted with your new neighbors, don’t just put your best foot forward, let them see your best self.


Mackay’s Moral:  First impressions are lasting impressions.

Recommit to your goals

The famed aerialist Zumbrati once walked a shaky tightrope across Niagara Falls despite a gusty wind that almost caused him to lose his footing.  He was very relieved to have made it safely across.  Waiting for him on the other side was a fan with a wheelbarrow.

“I believe you could walk back across pushing this wheelbarrow,” the fan said.

Zumbrati shook his head and said he was lucky to have made it across without a wheelbarrow.

“But I know you can do it,” the fan persisted.  “Just give it a try.”

Zumbrati shook his head again but the fan kept after him.

Finally, Zumbrati said, “You really believe in me, don’t you?”

“Oh, I do,” said the fan.

“Okay then,” said Zumbrati, “get into the wheelbarrow and we’ll start.”

Now that’s commitment:  Knowing what needs to be done, setting goals to get to that point, and following through.

The lazy, hazy days of summer are behind us.  Folks are back from vacation, kids are back in school, schedules get back to some semblance of normal. With a little luck, that translates into fewer work disruptions and more opportunities to get things done.

So it’s a logical time to review your goals for the year and see where you stand. If you’re on track, it’s time to reinforce your ongoing effort with a renewed enthusiasm for the project or goal.  If you’ve still got a long way to go, or even if you have to start all over again, remember that you still have several months until the year’s end, and success is still within your grasp.


Looming deadlines are a great incentive to accomplish.  What seemed like a cinch a few months ago might look a lot more daunting, but don’t let that get in your way.  Make your to-do list and get going.

Success depends on your commitment to your goals, whatever those goals may be. To evaluate your ability to commit, ask yourself these important questions:

  • Can you accept people for what they are, not as you’d like them to be? To work with the people around you, put away your prejudices and judgments so you can focus on what’s important.  Their strengths are what are important now.  Get over yourself.
  • Can you put other people’s needs ahead of your own? It’s a paradox, but you can reach your own goals more easily by helping your collaborators accomplish theirs. They have goals and ambitions too, and will be more likely to work with you if you cooperate.
  • Do you know what you’re great at? A thorough, honest knowledge of what you do better than most people is essential to making the right choices about where to put your energy.  Others have most likely identified your strong points; make sure they agree with your self-evaluation.
  • What gets in the way of your ability to do your job?  What other problems or projects are occupying time that you could be dedicating to your goals?  Once you understand what is eating up your most valuable resource – time – you can more easily refocus your efforts on accomplishing your goals.
  • What tools or training would help you?  If you are lacking equipment or know-how, chances are you can’t see the goal through to the end.  If your organization is truly committed to achievement, the necessary tools must be available.
  • Are you excited about your goals? If you’re not really excited by what you’re trying to do, your commitment won’t be very strong. But if the project is worth doing, get your head in the game and play to win.
  • Are you planning ahead for next year’s goals?  Accomplishing this year’s plan will have a significant impact on future achievement, company morale, and perhaps the viability of your organization.
  • Can you be completely honest with yourself? You can’t afford to fool yourself about your strengths, weaknesses, and potential.  If you need help, either from within your organization or from outside, now is the time to get a plan together.

One terrific source you might want to consider is a virtual training program, “Goals Mastery for Personal and Financial Success,” offered by sales and training guru Brian Tracy.  His 12-part video training course covers personal goal setting, purpose in life, overcoming adversity, and a variety of pertinent topics.   Check it out at  I guarantee Brian’s advice will inspire you to commit to your goals – and commit to success.


Mackay’s Moral:  Don’t “fall” down on your goals – commit to a season of success.

Lessons from teachers reach beyond the classroom

Never underestimate the tremendous impact teachers have on students, helping set the direction of their lives.  Studies show that people give credit for their success in the business world to the role models they encountered as youth.

I’ve shared these stories before, but I think they bear repeating.  Two teachers played major roles in helping me become a successful businessman.


Professor Harold Deutsch was my academic adviser at the University of Minnesota.  I was enrolled in his class on the history of World War II.  Professor Deutsch had been one of the interpreters at the Nuremberg Trials.  He did not teach history; he was part of history.

Spring quarter of my sophomore year:  Professor Deutsch had just given me a D.  I went in to plead my case:  I said being on the golf team prevented me from giving my class work my best effort.

“Harvey,” he said.  “Keep this up and you will be able to devote your full time – and it looks like you already have – to pushing that little white ball across a big green lawn.  Your excuse is pathetic.  I’m not changing the grade.  However, I’m going to challenge you, not just to raise your grade, but to get an A in this course when it continues in the fall.”

In the fall quarter, I got an A in Professor Deutsch’s class.  He should have been graded, too . . . an A in psychology.

My other mentor was Les Bolstad, the University of Minnesota golf coach.  Like all great coaches and teachers, Les did not teach golf.  He taught life.  If you learned a little golf on the side, well, so much the better.  Les was a second father to me.

Both men taught me tools that I’ve honed in the business world – to stay focused, to set realistic goals, and the arts of persuasion, leadership and visualization.

Today, Mary Mackbee is the principal of St. Paul (Minn.) Central High School, from which I graduated a few (!) decades ago.  She’s been there 22 years.

To teachers, she is the boss who is willing to fight to preserve their programs.

To parents, she is accessible and approachable and willing to listen.

To students, she is simply Ms. Mackbee, who knows 99 percent of the kids’ names.

Central is one of the city’s most culturally and economically diverse, not to mention popular, high schools, boasting a 92 percent overall graduation rate.  Ms. Mackbee champions the advanced placement, International Baccalaureate and Quest programs and Central’s performing arts offerings.  She responded positively to funding for cup stacking supplies when she saw data that showed how that dexterity activity helps reading, math and cognitive abilities.

Ms. Mackbee commands respect because everyone knows she is behind them all the way.

Taylor Mali, poet, humorist and teacher, tells a story about the value of teachers as role models.

One night at dinner a CEO decided to explain the problem with education.  He said:  “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?  You know, it’s true what they say about teachers:  Those who can do, do.  And those who can’t do, teach.”  He challenged another guest, “Hey, Susan, you’re a teacher.  Be honest, what do you make?”

After some thought Susan replied, “You want to know what I make?  I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could, and I can make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence.  I can make a C-plus feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor and an A feel like a slap in the face if the student didn’t do his or her very best.  I can make parents tremble when I call their home or feel almost like they won the lottery when I tell them how well their child is progressing.

“You want to know what I make?  I make kids wonder.  I make them question.  I make them criticize.  I make them apologize and mean it.  I make them write.  I make them read, read and read.  I make them understand that if you have the brains, then follow your heart.  And if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make in money, you pay them no attention.”

Susan then paused.  “You want to know what I make?  I make a difference.”

I couldn’t agree more.


Mackay’s Moral:  Teachers strive not to teach students to make a living, but to make a life.

Money, the game … with 7 simple steps to win it

With the possible exception of what the Treasury Department turns out, MONEY Master the Game – Tony Robbins’ new book – may be the most valuable stuff in print.  It’s absolutely jammed with advice you can take all the way to the bank.

Tony boils his message down to “7 simple steps to financial freedom.”  I, in turn, have 7 compelling reasons, why you absolutely have to sink your teeth into MONEY cover-to-cover:


  • Tony’s stories sing.  For Tony, caring and giving are properly the most powerful urges to build financial stability in the first place.  When Tony was 11, a stranger saved Thanksgiving Day by appearing like magic on his family’s front door with bags chock full of groceries.  At 17, “working nights as a janitor,” Tony spent Turkey Day treating a couple of families to dinner himself.  He describes one young woman whose motivating financial dream “was to buy a ranch and turn it into a church camp.”  As Winston Churchill wisely put it:  “’We make a living by what we get.  We make a life by what we give.’”
  • Tony’s All Star team of financial experts is jaw-dropping.  They include David Swensen, “the rock star of institutional investing . . . who grew Yale University’s endowment from $1 billion to more than $23.9 billion in less than two decades.”  Then there’s Mary Callahan Erdoes who “oversees more than $2.5 trillion as CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset Management.”  She offers families some very sage advice about asset allocation, the delicate balancing act of not stacking all your investment nest eggs in one basket.  And we hear from Carl Icahn, one of the world’s most successful investors the last 25 years.
  • Wisdom whacks you at every corner.  Whether it be Mark Twain saying:  “‘The secret of getting ahead is getting started.’” or Doug Warren of The Synergy Effect who contends that, “‘Baby boomers have been the primary mice used in the great 401 (k) retirement experiment.’”  How about this sobering observation?  “There’s a 50% chance that, among married couples, at least one spouse will live to the age of 92 and a 25% chance that one will live to 97.”  The longer we live, the more knowledge we acquire.  But, knowledge isn’t power until we put it to work.  “Knowledge is not mastery. Execution is mastery,” Tony declares, “execution will trump knowledge every day of the week.”
  • Commonplace conclusions are always out of place.   How do you get started?  Tony recommends asking yourself:  “What’s the price of your dreams?”  On money matters, Tony stresses, “We’ve been taught to think, ‘This is too complex’ or ‘This is not my field.’”  Tony is intent on making you an insider.  His mission is for you to “know the rules before you get in the game.”  Tony has some attention-getting contentions:  “You’ll learn why chasing returns never works [and] why nobody beats the market long-term. . .”  He’ll also equip you with some energizing skills that really work:  “You’ll . . . learn about a proven way of growing your money with 100% principal protection, and tax free to boot (IRS-approved).”
  • Tony’s candor is unflinching.  There’s no substitute for experience, and you have to be prepared to acquire it no matter what age you are.  Tony points to the sobering setback all adults have likely tasted:  being on the losing end of a video game with a youngster.  “So why do these kids always win?  Is it because they have better reflexes?  Is it because they’re faster?  No!  It’s because they’ve played the game before.”
  • MONEY is tool rich.  There are quick links to sites that help you do fast self-assessment and actually design a workable plan.  Not all of this is easy, but every inch of it is clear.
  • Constructive Advice is the heart of Tony’s message.  MONEY combs the complex wilderness and etches expert maps to guide you.  But you still need to be able to size up talent.  As Tony says, “not all professionals have equal skill or experience.”

Tony Robbins is the hands-down master of behavioral breakthroughs.  As he maintains, “I’m not a positive-thinking coach.  Quite the opposite:  I’m a prepare-for-anything coach.” Bottom-line:  You’ll not find a better heads-up map.


Mackay’s Moral:  When it comes to money, get the sense right and the dollars are sure to follow.

Real leadership often defies the rules

Leading an organization, whether public, private or non-profit, requires making tough decisions.  It’s just part of the job, whether it’s in the job description or not.  Because as they say, it’s lonely at the top.

Business school classes in leadership offer sound advice based on solid research and practical experience.  In theory, it all works beautifully.  You make the rules, you set the example, you toe the mark:  Everyone follows your lead.  Leadership training is important even if it doesn’t prepare you for every scenario.

But in practice, results aren’t always so predictable.  Sure, personality matters.  Some people are better leaders than others.  And unexpected situations arise that defy all logic.  Trust me, I’ve been in business long enough to say I’ve seen it all – until I see the next crazy event.

To become the best leader you can be, you must take advantage of every opportunity to learn and improve.  Learning from others’ mistakes and experiences can save you plenty of misery and embarrassment.

But even more important, in my view, is setting standards for what you will and will not do, and what you will and will not tolerate.  Take the time to determine what values are important to you and your organization.  Make sure everyone you lead understands what is expected.  Then practice what you preach.

One of my favorite examples of well-defined leadership is attributed to Kent Keith, which he titled his “Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership.”  I’ve added my thoughts to these “ten commandments,” and hope they help you prepare your value statement.


1.   People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered.  Love them anyway.  I’ve learned that co-workers and customers do not always respond as I would hope.  But if I want to keep them as colleagues and customers, I need to cut them some slack.

2.   If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.  Do good anyway. If you are doing well, then you should be doing good.  The good you do will outweigh the criticism you endure.  In truth, it would be more selfish to abandon your good works in order to avoid conflict.

3.   If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.  Succeed anyway. There will always be those who will want to jump on your bandwagon or be jealous of your good fortune.  That shouldn’t prevent you from doing the best you can do.

4.   The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.  Do good anyway.  Do good because it’s the right thing to do, not because you are looking for lifetime recognition.  Remember, virtue is its own reward.

5.   Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.  Be honest and frank anyway.  I maintain that lying and cheating make you more vulnerable.  Being honest and frank translates into trust, which is the most important five-letter word in business.

6.   The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds.  Think big anyway.  Small people with small minds rarely accomplish big things, and they are not leaders.  Take some risks, and trust your judgment.

7.   People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs.  Fight for a few underdogs anyway.  Top dogs were underdogs once, too.  Great leaders mentor their replacements because they know they won’t be the top dog forever.  They also have a knack for recognizing talent.

8.   What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.  Build anyway.  You can’t predict the future, but you can be prepared to face problems with careful planning.

9.   People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.  Help people anyway.  A helping hand might get slapped away.  But if you stand by and do nothing when you have the capacity to be helpful, shame on you.  That’s not leadership, that’s cowardice.

10. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.  Give the world the best you have anyway.  Put a smile on your face and give your detractors a big toothy target.  You never have to apologize for doing your best.  You should apologize if you do less than your best. 

A well-defined purpose is central to effective leadership.  It doesn’t just happen.  You have to know why you are doing what you are doing.  Otherwise, how will you know where you are going?

Mackay’s Moral:  When you lead with a purpose, people have a reason to follow you.