Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we each had our own presidential press secretary to answer tough questions and “spin” our message all day long against any and all adversaries? (It would be great for us perhaps, but I’m not sure I want to live in a world where everyone is “spinning” everyone else.)
That said, there’s something to be learned from the methods that politicians employ to stay in power.
Chief among these is staying on message — i.e., knowing what you want to say and then repeating it with extreme discipline and near-shamelessness, until it sinks in. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this noisy media age, it’s that simple, un-nuanced messages break through the clutter and hit home with high impact. (I’m not saying that’s always a good thing, but it’s a fact of life. Deal with it.)
It’s no different when you’re attempting to change. Like a politician making headlines for introducing new legislation, if you have a new initiative at work, you have to do something dramatic to announce it. (Reagan taught us that.) For sheer drama, apologizing fits the bill. What could be more theatrical than telling people that you’re sorry for some transgression and you’ll try to do better in the future, especially people who think you cannot change?
Don’t stop there. You can’t just apologize and say you’re trying to do better just once. You have to drill it into people repeatedly, until they’ve internalized the concept.
It’s the reason politicians in a hard election campaign run the same ads over and over again. Repeating their message — relentlessly — works; it sinks the message deeper into our brains.
I don’t want to push this political press secretary analogy too far. I’m not asking people to obfuscate or display selective memory or avoid questions, all of which are valuable weapons in the press secretary arsenal. All I’m saying is that you cannot rely on other people to read your mind or take note of the changed behavior you’re displaying. It may be patently obvious to you, but it takes a lot more than a few weeks of behavioral modification for people to notice the new you.
That makes it all the more vital that you proactively control the message of what you’re trying to accomplish. Here’s how to start acting like your own press secretary.
- Treat every day as if it were a press conference during which your colleagues are judging you, waiting to see you trip up. That mindset, where you know people are watching you closely, will boost your self-awareness just enough to remind you to stay on high alert.
- Behave as if every day is an opportunity to hit home your message — to remind people that you’re trying really hard. Every day that you fail to do so is a day that you lose a step or two. You’re backsliding on your promise to fix yourself.
- Treat every day as a chance to take on all challengers. There will be people who, privately or overtly, don’t want you to succeed. So shed the naivete and be a little paranoid. If you’re alert to those who want you to fail, you’ll know how to handle them.
- Think of the process as an election campaign. After all, you don’t elect yourself to the position of “new improved you.” Your colleagues do. They’re your constituency. Without their votes, you can never establish that you’ve changed.
- Think of the process in terms of weeks and months, not just day to day. The best press secretaries are adept at putting out the daily fires, but they’re also focused on a long-term agenda. You should too.
- No matter what happens day to day, your long-term goal is to be perceived as fixing an interpersonal problem — to the point where it isn’t a problem anymore. If you can do this, like the best press secretaries, you’ll have your personal “press corps” eating out of your hands.
Excerpted from What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There: HOW SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE BECOME EVEN MORE SUCCESSFUL by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter. Copyright 2007 Marshall Goldsmith. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion. (January 2007;$23.95US/$29.95CAN; 978-14013-0130-9) Available wherever books are sold.
Marshall Goldsmith is corporate America’s preeminent executive coach. Goldsmith is one of a select few consultants who have been asked to work with more than eighty CEOs in the world’s top corporations. He has helped implement leadership development processes that have impacted more than one million people. His Ph.D. is from UCLA and he is on the faculty of the executive education programs at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. The American Management Association recently named Marshall one of fifty great thinkers and business leaders who have impacted the field of management, and BusinessWeek listed him as one of the influential practitioners in the history of leadership development. In 2006, Alliant International University renamed their schools of business and organizational psychology the Marshall Goldsmith School of Management.
For information, please visit www.marshallgoldsmith.com or www.whatgotyouhere.com
Mark Reiter has collaborated on thirteen previous books. He is also a literary agent in Bronxville, New York.