Richárd Ecsedi via Unsplash

Does Your Leadership Pass the Smell Test?

The art of leadership involves the use of our senses in ways that we might not always immediately recognize but that we’d do well to spend more time exploring.

When I think about using my senses to sharpen my leadership, for instance, I typically think of sight and hearing. I constantly need to improve my listening skills and my ability to observe what’s going on around me. That’s Leadership 101. But I seldom think about the value of smell when it comes to growing as a leader.

Apparently, I’m not alone. Jessica Freiherr, a neuroscientist and researcher in Germany, once pointed out that as humans we have become “disconnected from our noses. We need them much less in everyday life. And our vision overrides the sense of smell in a lot of situations.”

There are, in fact, ways we can improve our use of smell to lead more effectively. Humans, like other animals, communicate using odors, and I’m not just talking about what you communicate if you go a few days without a shower or go overboard with perfume. There also are scents associated with emotions. Indeed, researchers estimate we can distinguish more than 1 trillion unique odors, so that’s a lot of data points.

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But there’s another way to think about the sense of smell, and it’s based on a question I believe we should all ask daily as leaders: What is the aroma of my leadership?

We gravitate toward smells we enjoy – coffee in the morning, fresh cut flowers, certain essential oils, our favorite foods, perfumes and colognes, or the salty scents of a beach in the morning. So what draws others to us as leaders?

Henry David Thoreau once said you should, “Behave so the aroma of your actions may enhance the general sweetness of the atmosphere.”

What a wonderful aspiration for leaders.

Is that how you would describe your leadership? More importantly, is it how others would describe your leadership? Does it enhance the general sweetness of the atmosphere? Or does it reek of worry, stress and fear? Does it overpower with arrogance? Does it underwhelm with self-doubt?

I want to produce a pleasantly fragrant leadership that makes people smile, encourages them, draws them together, and awakens and inspires their senses. That type of leadership might not come with a tangible odor, but, then again, it might. I don’t know. But I do know where it comes from: the heart.

Alex Kendrick, an actor, director, writer, and producer who has worked on several films, put it this way in Facing the Giants, “Your attitude is like the aroma of your heart. If your attitude stinks, it means your heart’s not right.”

If, on the other hand, your heart is right, your leadership will always pass the smell test.

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