Super quiet. Shy. Invisible. That was me in high school. I think my peers saw me as relatively smart, but being introverted and rather shy, they saw me (or, didn’t see me), as simply that – the quiet girl. And in turn, that’s how I saw myself for a long time, even after I had outgrown the “box.” This internal struggle of how I defined myself often affected my behavior, in both positive and negative ways.
Although we are certainly different individuals in our 20′s, 30′s and 40′s compared to how we were in high school, the labels, definitions and reputation others give us more often than not have some effect. They can force us to make a choice, either disagreeing with their words, or are pleased with what we hear and their comment may reinforce a certain behavior all the more.
Working in a team setting, it’s vital individuals have a positive self-image and are surrounded by others who empower them to be their best selves. Leadership guru Dale Carnegie advocates this principle of giving individuals a fine reputation to live up to, not only reinforcing their good qualities, but also motivating them to be successful.
This principle is put into very practical terms in one of my favorite books, The Art of Possibility. Within the book, husband and wife Rosamund and Ben Zander outline practices for shifting one’s mind to that of infinite possibility. One technique proposed is the idea of ‘Giving an A’ – the practice of giving individuals a goal or reputation to live up to from the very beginning. Instead of coming at his students from a perspective of ‘earn your A,’ Ben would begin his class telling his students they already had their ‘A.’ He began with a foundation of trust, and invited them, in essence to break boundaries, scale mountains and explore virgin territory without fear of the repercussions – they already had their ‘A.’
In addition to telling them they already had their pinnacle ‘A’, one week into the class, he would ask them to write him a letter, only it would be from the person they would be at the end of the school year, months from that present moment. He wanted to have them define why they had earned their ‘A.’ What was different about them in June, as opposed to September, 10 months prior. How had they changed? And then, with this visual set, they could spend their time in class developing and growing into that person, rightfully earning their ‘A.’ The results he saw were astounding, and he watched over the course of those 10 months, students transforming before his eyes.
Such practices easily transition to our work environment. Below are a few examples of how we can give individuals a fine reputation to live up to, empowering them to reach their full potential and succeed:
- Let them catch you complimenting them to others;
- Be lavish when introducing them to others – not to the point of excessive exaggeration, but giving them a reputation to meet and exceed;
- Show appreciation – pointing to specific projects. For example, saying “Amazing job on the monthly report. The detail and full context provided in the upfront summary was exactly what we needed.” helps direct the individual to how they can do just as well next time, instead of simply saying, “Good job!”; and
- If you notice someone is not paying attention, or they seem disengaged, treat them as if they were one of the most engaged team members, asking, “Is there anything wrong?” They may be very much immersed in work, but are simply giving off the wrong impression.
To truly strike a chord within an individual, we must show them their best self, lifting them up, giving them something to work towards, and providing them the opportunity to ‘wow’ us.
Also, if you have a few moments, check out Ben Zander’s TED Talk. His vibrancy, energy and enthusiasm are contagious.