You Only Get One Chance to Make the Last Impression

Leaders are in the job of creating experiences for the people they lead.  Great leaders are particularly intentional about crafting the arc of that experience.  They know what note they want to leave things on.  They plan out their arc so that people walk away with a clear vision of what’s next.

Great leaders plan out what they want their people think, feel, say, and do.

The recency effect suggests that people will remember more of the very last thing  you say/do than that which came before.

You’ve heard that “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

But you also only get one chance to make a last impression.You get one shot to close on the precise note.Last Monday afternoon, I missed my note.

That very morning, I’d led a half-day session with a group of about 75 senior leaders of a large pharmaceutical company.  We’d had a great session, exploring issues of how they can better energize their teams and improve morale.

The afternoon was a repeat of the morning’s content, to a different group of 100 other leaders.Up until the very end, it had also been an excellent session.   The leaders were energized and inspired.  I’d just offered up a passionate call to action, and was about to close with a heartfelt thanks and send them on their way, when I suddenly remembered I had a logistical detail to deal with:Parking validation.

We were offsite at a hotel, and they’d parked their cars in the garage.   In the morning, we’d handed out parking validation stickers and sent them on their way.  However, at lunchtime, I’d learned that the validation stickers didn’t pay for their parking; they were only a discount on parking.

two dollar discount on parking.  (They still had to pay eighteen bucks.)

I’d meant to bring up this whole validation/discount issue with the afternoon group earlier in the session, but in the midst of everything, I’d dropped the ball.

So here I was, about to send them on their way, but the stickers still needed to be handed out.  I felt the need to explain the parking situation.  I walked them through the whole story:  how with the morning group I’d thought it was free, but then at lunch found it was only a discount, and that the sticker would get them two dollars off, and I was sorry we didn’t know sooner, blah blah blah, etc.

As the words were coming out of my mouth, I could sense the mood shift.The bubble of inspiration seemed to pop and evaporate.  We were back in business mode.

I knew that people would be disappointed about the parking mix-up, and not happy about having to pay for parking when they’d thought it was free.

Yet more than that, the focus on logistics put them right into their heads.This, after all the efforts I’d put in to have them connect to their passion, power and purpose:  their hearts.

Did I blow the whole afternoon’s work? No.  But it did diminish the overall value of the experience.

Every detail (and sequence) matters. Even something as “trivial” as the parking validation.It’s not the way I wanted things to end.I teach this stuff–I know these principles.  I already knew the impact that covering logistics at the wrong time can have.

On Monday, I didn’t do what I know. And paid the cost.

What do you do to make sure your leadership experiences end on the right note?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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