Wouldnt 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 Im not sure I want to live in a world where everyone is spinning everyone else.)
That said, theres 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 theres one thing weve learned in this noisy media age, its that simple, un-nuanced messages break through the clutter and hit home with high impact. (Im not saying thats always a good thing, but its a fact of life. Deal with it.)
Its no different when youre 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 youre sorry for some transgression and youll try to do better in the future, especially people who think you cannot change?
Dont stop there. You cant just apologize and say youre trying to do better just once. You have to drill it into people repeatedly, until theyve internalized the concept.
Its 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 dont want to push this political press secretary analogy too far. Im not asking people to obfuscate or display selective memory or avoid questions, all of which are valuable weapons in the press secretary arsenal. All Im saying is that you cannot rely on other people to read your mind or take note of the changed behavior youre 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 youre trying to accomplish. Heres 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 youre trying really hard. Every day that you fail to do so is a day that you lose a step or two. Youre 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, dont want you to succeed. So shed the naiveté and be a little paranoid. If youre alert to those who want you to fail, youll know how to handle them.
Think of the process as an election campaign. After all, you dont elect yourself to the position of new improved you. Your colleagues do. Theyre your constituency. Without their votes, you can never establish that youve 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 theyre 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 isnt a problem anymore.
If you can do this, like the best press secretaries, youll have your personal press corps eating out of your hands.
Excerpted from WHAT GOT YOU HERE WONT GET YOU THERE 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.