3 Ways Managers Start Off On the Wrong Foot

3-ways-managers-start-off-on-the-wrong-foot-main

 

When you take your first leadership role, or find yourself at the helm of a new team, first impressions are essential to get right. (Sorry to have to add even more pressure to what is already a challenging situation, but the reality is that thanks to the way human brains are wired, impressions are very, very hard to undo.) Come across the wrong way in those early days of working together, and the odds are good that you will be dealing with the negative consequences of that for a long time to come.

Decades of research on perception points to three key mistakes to avoid. I would call them “rookie mistakes,” but honestly, these are mistakes that many managers make – even seasoned ones.

Mistake # 1: Act like you know (and can do) everything.

Intuitively, most people assume that being really confident is key to making the right impression as a new leader. However, according to psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, author of Confidence, overconfidence is a very dangerous thing. It can lead you to be underprepared, to set unrealistic goals that can’t be reached, and to generally make bad choices. To make matters worse, when your apparent confidence seems to exceed your competence, you are likely to be the object of derision and scorn. After all, what would you think of someone who routinely bites off more than he can chew, and claims to know more than he actually does? Would you want to follow such a leader? Chamorro-Premuzic’s research finds that overconfident people tend to be unpopular – and given how annoying it is to hear someone talk the talk without walking the walk, that’s really not surprising.

If, instead, you convey a more realistic sense of confidence, people will see you more positively. In fact, Chamorro-Premuzic argues that if you exhibit some modesty with respect to your skills and abilities, people will add, on average, 20-30% to their estimate of your competence. Toot your own horn too much, and they’ll subtract the same amount.

So don’t pretend to have all the answers, own up to what you don’t know, and ask questions. Your team will think you smarter for it.

Mistake # 2: Be too businesslike.

Too many new managers – especially those who are now managing their former peers — fear that being warm will make them look weak. But if you want to get your team’s best effort, and all the information you need from them to make good decisions, you are going to need them to trust you. And in order to figure out if you are trustworthy, people will tune in to two particular aspects of your character, right from the get go – your warmth and your competence.

Your warmth – being friendly, kind, loyal, empathetic – is taken as evidence that you have good intentions toward your team member. If you are warm, you are probably someone who has their back. If you are cold, you could turn on them at any moment.

Your competence – being intelligent, creative, skilled, effective – is taken as evidence that you can act on your intentions if you want to.  Incompetent leaders can’t be counted on, even when they mean well.

So to be trusted, you will need to appear both warm and competent, as research by Harvard’s Amy Cuddy and others has found. The trouble is, most people – often unconsciously – assume that being warm makes them look less competent.   In fact research shows that when people are trying to appear warm and friendly, they give compliments, make kind gestures, are generally agreeable, and encourage others to talk (i.e., they are good listeners). But when they want to appear competent, they do the opposite – speaking rather than listening, focusing the conversation on their own accomplishments and abilities, and challenging the opinions of others as a demonstration of their own expertise.

This is an entirely unnecessary tradeoff. The reality is, you don’t have to “play dumb” to seem warm, and you don’t have act like a jerk to seem competent. Engaging in “warm” behaviors like appreciating and affirming others, actively listening, and having empathy take nothing away from your reputation as a skilled and capable leader.

Mistake #3: Let them see the crazy.

Years ago I remember watching an episode of Scrubs in which one character told her friend that she worried she could no longer “hide the crazy” from the man she was dating. By “hiding the crazy,” she meant keeping a lid on all of the impulses and quirks she had a hard time controlling – like her irrational germaphobia, and her tendency to blurt out what she was thinking with very little filter.

Every human being has their own “crazy” – the temptations, impulses, and bad habits we struggle not to give in to, even though we know that they are socially unacceptable or self-destructive.   But even though the crazy is part and parcel of the human experience, don’t advertise yours.

This might seem oddly old-fashioned in an era when leaders are encouraged to be authentic and show vulnerability, when offices are more casual than they’ve ever been, and even massive organizations refer to themselves as families. But this doesn’t mean that anything goes. The research is clear: we don’t trust people who appear to lack willpower or self-control.

If you think about it, this makes a lot of intuitive sense. We trust leaders when we can be confident that they can resist temptation in order to do what’s right.   And that, as everyone knows, takes self-control.

Studies show that people who publicly engage in behaviors that are indicative of low self-control – like smoking, overeating, impulsive spending, or being lazy, chronically late, disorganized, excessively emotional, or quick to anger – are consistently rated as less trustworthy. These sorts of foibles may make us human, but they don’t help us as leaders.

The best possible solution is obviously to get a handle on your problem and rid yourself of your bad habit once and for all. Maybe knowing that your team might trust you less because of it will give you the extra bit of motivation you need to tackle the challenge. But even the best possible solution will probably take some time. No one rids themselves of bad habits overnight, or with ease. In the meantime, do what you can to keep your self-control issues private.

So, to make the right impression on your new team, remember these three simple rules: 1) Be modest, 2) Be warm, and 3) Hide the crazy. If you can do that, you are very likely to end up with a loyal and effective team that is willing to work together and follow your lead.

Post your comment here

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *