Set yourself up for success

Posted January 15, 2010 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

My father is a wealth of wisdom and no-nonsense advice.  Here’s one of his classics that useful for anyone who wants to start in a new leadership role on the right foot…

As a student, on his first day of school, he would sit in the front row and stay highly engaged in the lecture. He’d ask a few questions, studiously take notes and when the first assignment was handed out, he’d get it in early.

He’s always maintained that, after that first show of engagement, he’d be able to slack off for the rest of the semester (request extensions on assignments, miss the occasional class, etc).   (In fact, a few years ago, I heard to researchers on CBC claim that my dad’s strategies would help you improve your GPA by at least half a point!)

I used to think of my Dad’s advice as “the slackers guide to getting ahead”.  In reality, what he had tapped into back in his student years is the power of “first impression management”.  Studies show that if you make an excellent first impression and really “wow” your audience, they’ll tend to overlook your later transgressions because they seem so out of character.

Translated to the workplace it goes like this… when you get your new job / promotion / transfer to a new department, figure out what your bosses biggest priorities are and then wow them – and I mean REALLY wow them – on your first deliverable.

Then, when your first inevitable screwup happens, you’ll get cut some slack.  Now, obviously, you can’t produce one big “wow” and then go ahead to screw up everything else in your path.  After three major misses in a row, your boss will just begin to think that his or her first impression of you was a mistake.

Now, some of you may be skeptical about the value of this type of advice, but I can tell you from my own experience and from observing leaders in organizations for over 20 years… trust me… it works.  I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of people, who have every reason to be successful, get off to a rocky start because they missed the mark on their very first project.  And the tricky thing about the law of the first impression is this: if your first impression is a major screw up, you are going to have to WOW people at least three times in a row for them to believe that you’re not a screw up.

So, why not make your life easier in the long run?  It pays to put in the extra time and over deliver your first time out of the gate.  Consider it a strategy that creates some emotional equity with your key stakeholders.   Much better to have equity than to be in a deficit, wouldn’t you say?

Happy leading!


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