When US President Barack Obama recently nominated Jack Lew as his new secretary of the treasury, the significant objection to his candidature, raised in various quarters, was the terrible quality of his signature. Media pointed out that while Lew was a capable technocrat, his loopy, illegible signature was messy. How could it even appear on the face of US currency notes, which bear the secretary’s signature? Eventually, Obama appears to have resolved this “difficult” matter by obtaining Lew’s assurance that he would make at least one alphabet in his signature legible, in order not to further debase the US currency, which is already threatening to fall off the fiscal cliff.
This episode highlights an issue that most managers ignore: Many of us claim to be masters at the art of strategy or execution or marketing, but can you claim to have mastered the simple and essential art of signing your name very effectively? Look around your office, and you will find several signatures that surpass Lew’s, in messiness. A manager may wear a smart Italian suit and clean out his email inbox meticulously each day, but what is the use of all this if his signature on an important letter looks like an ugly duckling with a squiggly neck, or a kindergarten student’s early effort at writing?
Your signature can really speak for you. It can represent the personality you are or wish to be—strong or disciplinarian or relaxed or fun-loving. Since we have not come across a single executive training programme that teaches this subject, we are taking it upon ourselves to tell you how to make your signature an interesting and noticeable part of your professional persona. We suggest you sign off on at least a couple of these valuable suggestions.
Choose an unusual colour: If your signature has to be part of your distinctive identity, make the choice to sign in a distinctive colour. Everyone uses boring old blue or black. So go ahead, use champagne pink or crimson red or olive green, and see the difference. Everyone will notice your signature. No one will mistake who has written that particular office memo.
Use a fountain pen: Your signature assumes a new class when you use a fountain pen—maybe one with a gold nib. Sometimes, people even assume you must be the chairman or CEO or close enough in the pecking ladder, if you possess such a fancy writing instrument. Use this pen slowly, and in full display of your office team, so that everyone wonders about your stature. Of course, you run the risk that ink may spill or leak on to your fresh white shirt and create a permanent stain there. But then haven’t we all learnt that reward is commensurate with risk?
Try a global language: Have you ever tried signing your name in ancient Hebrew or Egyptian hieroglyphics or Japanese? That will lend an entirely new aspect to your personality. To begin with, you establish yourself as a global manager, willing to cross cultural or linguistic boundaries with ease. Second, mostly no one will ever figure out what you have actually written, so you can have great fun signing whatever you want. Avoid unparliamentary words, though, just in case you actually meet an ancient Egyptian.
Change your signature: When the need arises, do not hesitate to change your signature. Issue a note to all concerned confirming that you have done this, go ahead and sign this letter in the new and modified style. This will create varying levels of great commotion in your finance department, bank, HR team, company secretary’s office, superviser’s cabin—in short, everywhere. People will even wonder about your deep motives. All this can provide welcome diversion from a very difficult business situation at hand. For instance, while the US media waits with bated breath for Lew’s new and legible signature, many economic difficulties may get neatly brushed under the carpet.
"Your signature can really speak for you. It can represent the personality you are or wish to be—strong or disciplinarian or relaxed or fun-loving "
Sign off on your emails: Emails look so much more personalized if you attach your actual signature at the bottom of the mail, instead of just typing out your name, which is boring. Talk to your IT department immediately and work out a neat solution to do this, including keeping a scanned version of your “autograph” on your desktop.
Add interesting symbols: For instance, you could simply add seven dots under your signature. People will wonder why, and they may even ask you, opening a new avenue for constructive conversation. Or begin your signature with a smiley. This will signal that you are a cool guy, and also in touch with the new-age world of texting symbols. I know a friend who recently began adding an exclamation mark after his signature, and he says people have since started to regard him as a spontaneous, enthusiastic manager.
Harish Bhat is managing director of Tata Global Beverages Ltd and author of Tata Log—Eight Modern Stories From a Timeless Institution. He wonders why there is such a large gap in meaning between sign and resign.