Personal Kryptonite and First Impressions

One of the most successful millennials I know explained to a group of us that her professional kryptonite is incompetence. She further defined that to include people who don’t try, saying that when someone is trying hard, she can work with them to improve. Getting people to try is the hardest and most important aspect of management.

While she was being a big sarcastic and bombastic, it got me thinking a little bit more about how our personal preferences influence the way we get our staff to be intrinsically motivated to perform at their best. First impressions are key, both for the employer and the employee, and it is important that we stay true to ourselves in how we present in those key moments, otherwise we will create unsustainable personas that people will soon see through.

If you, like my friend, truly value competence, make sure that is communicated through your attire, body language, and opening words with new employees. You can do this for any value you have. You should also make use of your physical surroundings.

Assuming you have succeeded in engendering your intended values with an intentional first impression, you still have to actively create an environment that continues that value and regularly use implicit and explicit methods of keeping that value around.

One of the most important values to me is working hard and working efficiently. One way I like to show to my staff at camp that I value those two things is that I will try to identify whatever task in a given situation or project will be the hardest or most complicated or involved and publicly work on that task whilst teaching staff (and campers since I know the campers will one day be staff so it’s never too early to get them competent). Since a large portion of jobs at camp are dirty or gross, this often means doing my best Mike Rowe imitation and getting dirty.

You don’t always have to get dirty, and you don’t always have to do the hardest task publicly, but showing your staff that what they are doing matters and is not beneath anyone is a powerful method of motivating them, since it validates their effort and allows them to picture themselves transitioning from their entry level job into a manager or executive. The new CEO of JC Penny, Marvin Ellison, is a paragon of this executive virtue, and it’s paying off.

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