You don’t repair that relationship by sitting down and talking about trust or making promises. Actually, what rebuilds it is living it and doing things differently – and I think that is what is going to make the difference.–Patricia Hewitt
I’m sharing an experience I had with a recent client to highlight the following career advice: Sometimes achieving success and reaching ones career goals is merely a matter of changing a single behavior. As a career coach, I assist clients in various aspects of their career development: From choosing a major and minor to study in college that matches my client’s unique interests and aptitude, to selecting a sustainable industry that suits his/her skills and interests, choosing a suitable location to live and launch a first (or second) career, and all the details that go into marketing themselves e.g. interviewing skills, resume writing and so on. Included in this mix of career services is often helping my clients identify an obstacle (in their behavior or in a strategy) that’s holding them back from achieving their maximal potential in the hiring process and in earning promotions, or from acquiring new business.
Ann attended a top university, was highly skilled in her field and yet was consistently turned down for promotions and raises despite her being considered “top talent.” Ann is poised, attractive, well dressed, articulate and makes a great first impression so it’s understandable why she interviewed well and could land a great job straight out of college. Her problem was that she consistently showed up late to work and frequently canceled on her employer. Here’s a snapshot of our coaching sessions and the advice that followed:
Ann said the reason she hired me as a coach was that she was having difficulty juggling her work and personal responsibilities and wanted some advice on how to create a more productive and less “insane” life for herself. She admitted that her personal issues were beginning to cloud her thinking at work and causing her to become “forgetful” and “scattered ” and she wanted some objective advice on how she could improve her situation. She wasn’t clear as to what was holding her back from developing a good rapport with her co-workers and her boss as she felt strongly her skills and contributions were adding value to her employer. After some discussion, we discovered that Ann’s main problem at work was her lack of accountability.
Ann started out strong in her new role at work, showing great promise with her technical skills as a software engineer and in her ability to communicate solutions to her team. Ann said that lately her colleagues and her boss were treating her differently, with “less respect.” I inquired if any of her behaviors may have triggered a negative response from her boss and she admitted that her attendance at work had been erratic and her colleagues stopped talking to her when she’d arrive late to scheduled meetings. Ann said that she tried to compensate for showing up late by taking on more work but she felt her co-workers were a bit hostile toward her and one person remarked that “Ann’s good at getting away” with being careless. She also felt they were becoming less inclusive of her in social situations after work. It was clear to me that if she persisted with this behavior she would inevitably end up unemployed without any recommendations from her current employers to leverage this position for another one. This was an S.O.S. career coach call.
Ann arrived 15 minutes late to her first coaching session. She canceled the second session and again arrived late for her third appointment. Typically I would not charge someone for being late if it was a one time event, but in Ann’s case I realized that her tardiness was a symptom of a bigger problem. She seemed to always have a great excuse for why she’s late or why she needs to cancel at the last-minute and excuses herself by saying it was “unavoidable.” Her apology for her consistent tardiness and absence was wrought with denial that she had any part of the wrongdoing. The first time she said, “I’m sorry but I can’t be split into two people” and the second time and third time she excused her tardiness saying, “It wasn’t my fault.”
This particular phrase rubbed me the wrong way. She made it sound like it was my flaw in some way for expecting her to show up and be on time! It became evident to me that Ann’s problems at work were tied to her denial of her mistakes. Only once she recognized the gravity of her negligent behavior could she then regret it and desire to change her ways.
My goal was to help Ann recognize the dysfunctional behavior that was impeding her career advancement before it would cause permanent damage to her reputation.
Before I could begin coaching Ann on how to prioritize her various tasks at work and at home, I needed to convince her that her current behavior would eventually lead to her demise at work and that she needed to adopt an emotionally mature mindset… immediately: In order to improve in this area she would first need to accept that she had done something wrong and feel some healthy remorse for her mistakes. Here’s the 5 steps I shared with Ann that helped her become accountable and enabled her to adopt a new approach to managing her busy life.
5 steps to becoming accountable and managing a busy life
1. Accept that you have a problem
2. Desire to fix the problem: All real change is rooted in what a person desires. Thoughts affect actions so changing one’s thoughts will open the door for new behaviors.
3. Regret the behavior: If you don’t really regret the behavior no real change can take place. Regret and a healthy dose of guilt can be the impetus for change (as long as you don’t go overboard and become paralyzed by guilt).
4. Find a new behavior to substitute for the negative one: This is the exciting, proactive part of the process for changing a behavior. Find another behavior that is the exact opposite and start doing that consistently. The positive affect of trying on a new behavior is a secret to changing a character flaw. Swing to the right implementing this new positive behavior (even if it feels a bit extreme) in order to eventually come back to the center!
5. Implement this new behavior for a full month! There’s nothing more important when it comes to building trust and credibility than being accountable for your behavior. Your words matter and when you make a commitment to someone (especially your boss) make sure you follow-up with your promise; If your word can be trusted you’ll benefit from having a “good name.” In fact, having a good name can become a part of your legacy. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates are great examples of people who became super successful and built a “good name” into their legacy.
In order to preserve your reputation and maintain respect from colleagues and your superiors, make sure you think first before you agree to take on a commitment. Once you say “yes” may it be to attending a function, an assignment, a charitable gift or for assisting someone… the worst thing you can do is not follow through and use a lame excuse like “it’s not my fault.”
Since everyone makes occasional mistakes, the best thing to do when you can’t follow through is to accept responsibility for the mishap. People tend to forgive and have respect for those who readily admit to a mistake and show regret. The opposite is true for those who rationalize and project blame on others: This behavior is viewed as a sign of weakness and wreaks of emotional immaturity. The best employees are not necessarily ones who never err but they are ones who consistently learn from their mistakes and accept responsibility for them when something goes awry.
Once Ann admitted to herself that she lacked accountability and it was limiting her ability to advance in her firm, she was able to take the necessary steps to improve her situation: She realized that projecting her problem onto someone else was slowly but steadily chipping away at her reputation. She admitted to herself and to me that she could understand how her ignoring this character flaw would eventually lead to her losing all her credibility. She stopped rationalizing her tardiness and committed herself to a behavior modification program to stop this behavior. Acknowledging this was a major breakthrough for her as we then could begin to discuss which of her commitments were top priorities and which were less-essential. Ann then made a new daily schedule prioritizing her main tasks.
I applaud anyone who is intellectually honest with themselves in facing their personal challenges. If you truly desire change and pave a new path for constructive behaviors nothing will get in your way. It’s possible to overcome any character flaw if you can regret the behavior, commit to change and substitute a new behavior in its place. Sometimes it requires swinging to the opposite side of the behavior spectrum. In Ann’s case, she committed herself to arriving 10 minutes early for a full month; Now, six months later, Ann says she feels great about being a more reliable, accountable person. Her boss has noticed the difference in her behavior and their relationship has become more trusting, her co-workers are including her in their regular outings after hours and who knows… she might even receive that promotion she’s working toward by the end of this year.