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Fixing that first impression

June 11, 2013

One of the biggest challenges with trying to make a significant change in the way that you do things is that everybody else has to come along for the ride.

The people that surround you, that work with and for you, that support you in the journey – they’ve all got something to do with your success, and it’s not going to be easy to suddenly change course without their involvement.

The problem with making that shift is first impressions. People will know you as they’ve always known you, and that’s formed at the moment they began to know you. And that applies to position, attitude, philosophy, and habits. Even if a shy engineer eventually becomes a brash manager, there is a risk I may still think of him as that shy engineer.

I think of it this way: making an adjustment and breaking out of the rut of the cycle of routines requires a permission of sorts from your colleagues and friends. This isn’t to say that I believe you have to ask your friends and coworkers permission to be more daring or to implement a new strategy, but you have to consider their reactions when you make any sort of major change. You’ve got to take their habits and patterns into account when you adjust your own.

Change in management

I have experienced this phenomenon firsthand when implementing our “Good to Great” project, and I suspect I’m not alone. We cannot help but look at colleagues for what they were instead of what they have become. And we continue to fall into that trap, even though we have made significant improvements.

If you see this in your organization, my recommendation is to start by considering how you respond to the changes others make. I realized that I sometimes (very unintentionally) find myself obstructing colleagues in changing behavior by expecting the same from them as I always have. That conflicts with my basic rule of leadership: people become what you expect them to be. In other words, as in most other situations in life, improvements start with the man in the mirror.

Secondly, you’ve got to talk about what you’re hoping to change and create a structure for communicating your direction and the team’s results. And you have to keep doing it. Serve up the facts that give people courage to trust your direction and support you along the way.

As a result, your organization can take steps forward at the same time when you acknowledge that the status quo isn’t good enough. It takes courage to step out of a comfortable routine and into something new, but your organization and your connections will be stronger for it. Familiarity breeds atrophy, and awareness and communication are the first steps to correction.

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