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Atmosphere: It’s Up To You!

As the CEO of the Zig Ziglar Corporation for 25 years, I have had the opportunity to meet with thousands of leaders and executives from top companies around the world.  Many come to us for advice on how to improve their business performance.  One of the things I always look for is atmosphere. Great leaders and thriving companies always have great atmospheres.

Atmosphere is that intangible that makes a tangible difference.  Atmosphere is far more than the environment.  I have been to chaotic job sites, crazy busy manufacturing plants, and incredibly hot warehouses that most white collar executives would find uncomfortable and intimidating, and yet they had incredibly vibrant atmospheres.  I have also been to beautiful corporate offices with ornate detail and highly engineered environments where the atmosphere was so negative you could cut it with a knife.

Atmosphere is a choice and atmosphere starts with you.  Atmosphere is not environment and it is more than culture.  Environment is physical and is important, but the wrong people in the right environment will still struggle.  The right culture is essential to long-term business success.  The challenge is this – if your goal is a good culture you may not end up with the best atmosphere.  However, if the right atmosphere is your goal, then a good culture is part of the package.

Atmosphere:  Four Choices You Can Make

In martial arts many systems have different levels of belts that you earn as you progress.  Most start with the entry-level White Belt, and then progress through the colors like Red, Brown, and Black.  Creating the right atmosphere is the same way.  The four choices you can make require more awareness and expertise as you progress, but once the foundation is laid and the experience gained, atmosphere is no longer a mystery but simply the result of making good choices.

Creating the Right Atmosphere:

#1.  Choose it!  No matter where you sit as a leader you can choose your own atmosphere.  This starts with the atmosphere right between your own two ears.  What you read, listen to, who you associate with, and what you believe to be true, all contribute to the atmosphere that surrounds you.

Do you have clearly-identified long-term goals and objectives?  If not, how do you know if you are reading and listening to the right things?  If you do have clearly defined long-term goals and objectives, ask yourself this simple clarifying question:  Is what or who I am –  reading, listening to, associating with, working with – taking me closer to, or further from, my goals?

What you feed your mind determines your appetite, and your appetite determines your behaviors and attitudes.

#2.  Change it!  Choice #1 in atmosphere means you are getting good at developing your personal atmosphere by choice.  Choice #2 is when you make a conscious, intentional decision to change the atmosphere around you in a positive way that benefits everyone.

There are many ways you can change the atmosphere.  Your smile, how you greet people, your voice inflection, your sincerity when you are with people, all of these little things can add up to changing the atmosphere.

Every time I fly, which is a lot, I make a conscious decision to change the atmosphere on the plane.  When I board the plane I greet the flight crew and attendants warmly and ask them this:  How are you today — and do you like Starbucks?  Almost always they respond enthusiastically with “We are doing great and yes, we do like Starbucks!” I then give them all two gifts, a $5 Starbucks card and a little book we have titled Zig Ziglar’s LIttle Book of Big Quotes.  I then make my way to the back of the plane and do the same with the flight attendants in the back.

Traveling for me is now an amazing experience!  The atmosphere is truly changed.  They stop by to chat with me when they have time, and often they load me up with extras to take with me like big bottles of water and snacks.  I have received notes in the mail, emails, three-page hand-written letters, and have had heart-to-heart conversations about life at 35,000 feet.  With all the attention I get, the people around me think I am some sort of VIP celebrity.  When I tell them what I did, it changes their atmosphere as well. Sincerely recognize people and appreciate them for what they do and you will change the atmosphere.

#3.  Cover it!  Choice #3 is when you prepare in advance how you are going to deal with a hostile environment.  Let’s face it.  Not all atmospheres that we enter into are simply neutral or negative; some are hostile towards us.  It could be a difficult meeting at work, or a contentious situation with a client or customer.

Good news – you can choose to Cover a hostile atmosphere with your own atmosphere.  Instead of reacting to the other person, you plan in advance how you are going to respond.  Here are a couple of things you can do to be effective in covering the atmosphere.

First, remember “shields up!”  Picture in your mind the atmosphere you want to bring to the meeting. I like the atmosphere of hope, understanding, listening, teamwork, kindness, and making collaborative progress.  I make sure that my atmosphere not only shields me from theirs but also covers theirs.

Second, I anticipate that their attitude towards me may not be good, and I choose in advance to respond in a way that deflects and turns their attitude in a healthy way.  I reaffirm to myself that their issues are not with me personally, and my role is simply to help solve the problem.  This is not about caving in, it’s about listening, acknowledging, and responding firmly with kindness on a workable outcome.  When you master the art of Covering the atmosphere, you understand that intentionality and sincerity of how you interact is the key.

#4.  Create it!  Choice #4 is Black Belt level.  Top CEOs, executives, and aspiring leaders understand that the most powerful thing they can do for their companies and teams is to Create the atmosphere.

Creating the right atmosphere starts with identifying and speaking into the life the atmosphere you want to have.  Until you discuss what you want with your team, and define what it means to have it, there is no chance you can create it.  You must be intentional.

Once you have identified the atmosphere you want, then as the leader you must master the Four Choices outlined in this short article.  Your people are going to respond or react to your personal attitudes and behaviors – your personal atmosphere – far more than the official mission statement on the wall.  When your team sees you choosing your own atmosphere, changing the atmosphere wherever you go, and covering the atmosphere in difficult situations, they will buy in to helping you create the atmosphere you want.

Is all of this worth it?  Yes!  Few things are more satisfying than a great working atmosphere where you wake up every morning eager to get back at it because where you work gives you energy instead of draining it.  Atmosphere – it’s up to you!

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Tom Ziglar
Tom Ziglar is the CEO of Zig Ziglar Corporation, an international speaker, and author of Choose To Win. Tom is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.