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I consulted with two companies last week. One was truly a pleasure to work with; the other, I’m sorry to say, was a miserable experience. I could sense something was wrong as soon as I walked in the door. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on just how I knew, but later, I figured it out.

If you’re around your place wondering what people are thinking, let me give you some advice that I’ve picked up in my years of working with different organizations: Look for smiles. Then, look for the enthusiasm and optimism that should be fueling those smiles.

At the first place I visited last week, everyone smiled when they met me. They looked me in the eye and nodded as I walked through the facility with the boss. Along the way, the boss stopped and talked to some of the employees; I spoke with them, too. Everyone was pleasant and open. I was a new friend.

The second place was completely the opposite. During my tour, hardly anyone looked at me. Those who we did stop and talk with acted as though I was inconveniencing them. They certainly were not happy to see me. I was the enemy.

Over the course of each day, I learned more about the companies. At the first place, I saw supervisors staying involved with their employees and on top of what they need. But in the second place, I saw weak and absent managers who didn’t care how the work got done, only that it got done. (And, with this attitude coming down from the top, the work wasn’t getting done.) In short, everything I believe about leadership was reinforced during those two visits.

In your research, you will not have the luxury of hindsight that I had in these cases. In fact, you may be too close to the problem to objectively assess the situation. That’s why I am giving you this simple test to look for smiles. I don’t mean fake, pasted-on ones, but genuine, glad-to-be-here smiles. Reading facial expressions can tell you if people are happy to be working there.

I don’t expect every work environment to be like Disney World—you know, The Happiest Place on Earth. But I do hope you can detect the positive energy that exists in a great organization. In fact, you might be looking on a day when folks are stressing to meet end-of-period goals. But the test still holds. How do they greet you and interact with you as you walk by? Do people seem interested in you, and eager to share about what goes on there? Or do they avoid you, afraid you will ask them a question they really don’t want to answer?

When you go about your daily routine you have plenty on your mind. But I encourage you to stop and take time out to look closely at your people. Do their faces and actions match their words? Do people greet you and each other positively, or do they look at you like you are radioactive? It’s a simple test, with accurate results. Oh, and one more thing--remember to smile yourself.

Wally Adamchik is President of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting. Visit the website at He can be reached at 919-673-9499 or

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