Blog - Management speak

How do you change the habits of a lifetime?

Performance coach Joella Bruckshaw advises on how to up your game when promoted to a different role

Changing gear

Sometimes when you set a clear goal it’s really weird what happens! In my role as a performance consultant I have just finished an assignment working with a policy advisor who had been promoted to a new international role. He was a careful introvert with strong attention to detail, an asset in the previous role but now more ‘flying by the seat of his pants’ as his boss put it, was necessary.


His new post required him to carry out more of an ambassadorial role where he was high profile and in front of the cameras whenever he made a public appearance. It wasn’t helped by the fact that all his dealings had to be conducted in another tongue. His confidence was taking a battering and when we first met he was tense and preoccupied.


By the end of our time together my client wanted to feel a significant improvement in his level of authority and presence. When I asked him how he would know he had achieved his goal, he told me as well as feeling it himself, others would also be confirming the changes.


Fun is a ‘must have’


In considering how we were going to work together we agreed that one of the important ‘must haves’ in the process, was a bit of fun!

At first it was heavy going. The local employees, unused to running efficient bureaucracies, couldn’t always be relied upon to understand instructions, with some unexpected results. His office was in the same building as his accommodation so he had little private space and was not good at asserting himself. He found it difficult to break into the conversation at official dinners because he was concerned that his languages weren’t good enough. In fact he was inclined to indulge the habitually negative narrative running in his head about what might go wrong. One of his biggest fears was, in the many meetings he had in a day, that he might forget something important and not be able to recall it 6 months later. This meant that even when we were speaking, he would take notes, making our interaction awkward and stilted.


His behaviour wasn’t eliciting the trust and connection that is required to build unquestioned authority and presence that, in an emergency, might make his organisation the one that is trusted and perhaps as a result, the recipient of critical information. Whilst working on being more assertive made sense to him, despite agreeing that note taking compromised the development of good rapport, when he considered the possibility of not taking notes he was sceptical. He couldn’t see how to change such an ingrained habit, but he wanted the result and to his credit was prepared to try alternatives.


As I got to know this reticent man, he told me that one of the things that he loved to do was run. He recalled that something that gave him great pleasure and fulfilment were the moments before embarking on a race, knowing that he was fully prepared and all he had to do was enjoy the process. This was the key that enabled him to turn his situation around. When he ran races he revelled in the fact that he was facing a challenge for which he was well prepared and finishing gave him a strong sense of achievement and a light heartedness that he felt in few other circumstances. This became the blue print for our work together.


Different strategies for different meetings


We analysed the different meetings he had and identified five different types and for each, we came up with a way of conducting them that would mean he remembered easily, what was necessary. For each type we worked out an appropriate strategy without taking his focus away from the other person.


For one he requested they took notes and send them to him later. For another he clarified his intended focus before the meeting and mentally ticked the boxes as each topic arose. On the occasions he was attending an information meeting, where he was part of a group, he still took notes, as the relationship building was less important. Where he needed to remember the person he characterised them as a cartoon character or someone humorous and easily memorable.


Taking the time to prepare by thinking through practical ways to address each aspect of this challenge was enjoyable and as he gradually made them part of his everyday practice his relationships improved and so did his confidence. He had reduced an overwhelming problem to bite sized chunks and enjoyed the experience of putting them in place, helped by his natural attention to detail.


Being resourceful


This foundation provided a platform for a growing level of resourcefulness. He came up with the idea of pretending he was wearing the “ambassador’s overcoat” so in his mind “the ambassador” for his organisation was centre stage, not him. With the positive feedback he was getting as he built new relationships, he realised it was possible to take a more light-hearted view and go with the flow a little more.


When our work together ended we were sorry to say goodbye but we ended on a high note. At our last encounter he proudly showed me a letter from one of one of his countrymen, whose relative had died recently whilst working for the same organisation. In it they thanked him for showing the ‘authority and presence’, (yes they actually used those words) to personally oversee the funeral arrangements, which without his firm and timely intervention would have been delayed and the cause of even greater distress to the family.


As he considered the work we had done he told me he realised that he hadn’t changed fundamentally but what had changed was recognising that to maintain his current level of confidence, which he told me had risen from a three to a six, he would need to carry on signing up for and preparing for races and it was going to be fun!



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29 November 2012

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