Five top tips for personal performance improvement

Start the week as you mean to go on.

Five top tips for personal performance improvement

All social animals including humans consciously and unconsciously give off and pick up on indicators that identify an individual’s social status, confidence, authority and ability. We spend years practicing and honing these skills in the playground and in early adulthood. (at least my generation did. We still had playgrounds and it was the days before Gameboy and mobile phones)

Today there is a huge body of research into social and behavioural skills and science does prove that there is hope for the generation who grew up with 500 friends on facebook rather than a ‘wolfpack’ of ‘bessie mates’ you would die for!

Many trainers, myself included, will give tips to young leaders and to those who want to succeed in an interview or critical situation. We might even have counseled our own offspring on some tricks of the trade to help them ‘make friends and influence people’ or fake it to you make it! Here are a five top tips that actually work to help you change your state, appear more confident, or even change the way you think. So before you hit the desk this Monday morning take a few minutes to supercharge your performance.

1. Your physiology impacts your mood

The way we feel impacts the way we think and the way we act. Ask anyone to sit down and look at the floor and think of a particularly tough time in their life and they will quickly depress themselves. Both mentally and physically! Amy Cuddy a social psychologist from Harvard suggested in a fascinating TED talk that you actually reduced Testosterone production and increased the depressant cortisol in this hunched position.

If you now ask the same person to continue to think about that difficult time and to stand up straight, look up at the ceiling and smile and they will find it impossible to feel or think about the situation in the same way. This power position literally helps us exude confidence and increases testosterone production. “Our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves," Cuddy concluded. "Our bodies change our minds."

Tip No. 1:- Stand tall, feet shoulder width apart, hands on hips or by your side for two minutes prior to that big interview or presentation…. and

2. Smile

In a recent study, university students were told to hold chopsticks in their mouths in order to force a smile whilst another group were asked to create a genuine smile, which engaged eye muscles as well as cheek muscles. They were given stressful activities to complete and it was found that the subjects with both the genuine and the standard smiles were less stressed after performing the task than those with the neutral expression.

Tip No. 2:- Force a smile or better still remember a good positive experience in the past and smile genuinely as you recall it.

3. Dress to impress

I was once told by a Partner at a prestigious and famous consultancy, that to get promoted you have to “dress in clothes you can’t afford and never be seen to doing anything someone more junior could be doing” At the time I was young and idealistic and dismissed the advice. I actually found it hit me at a values level and deliberately distanced myself from the individual. Later in my career at the early dawn of Performance First I struggled to generate sales and believed I could not sell. One night after a depressing day of failed meetings in London, my wife said to me “what are you selling?” I reeled off a list ‘’ OD, leadership, team development, coaching…” “No you’re not! “she interrupted “You are selling you, and you are good at that. You have never failed a job interview ; there is no difference!”

“Ah” I said “it is different! When I go for an interview I have my interview suit on and feel and look a million dollars!” “Well” she said “You don’t need it anymore for interviews so put it on!” I did, and the very next sales call landed £100k of business and the customer is still a client 15 years later! So was the partner right I grudgingly have to say yes! (Also see 5 below)

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that wearing particular clothes associated with certain positive qualities helped improve performance. They concluded that dressing for success “depends on both the symbolic meaning and the physical experience of wearing the clothes.”

Tip No. 3: Wear clothes that give you confidence and make you feel the part.

4. Act confident

Kilduff, and Galinsky, in a 2013 research study postulated that individuals’ thoughts and feelings when first entering a group would determine their long-term status within that group. They suggested that individuals who happen to be feeling energetic and confident as they enter a new group might show greater initiative during initial group discussions, thus appearing more competent to their teammates and consequently achieving a higher rank. In follow-up studies, they found that feeling powerful or happy when you entered a group not only led to immediate increases in status, but that this effect endured over subsequent group meetings. Why? The person entering into the group, having just been primed with power, acted more assertively in the first few minutes. This set up patterns of communication that persisted in the future. That early assertiveness becomes self-reinforcing within the group.

Reporting on their findings, They quantify some of the randomness of organizational hierarchy. “Much as prior research has shown how attributes that may be unrelated to competence or value—race, height, personality—can determine status,” they write, ”our work establishes another way in which those at the top of the hierarchies may not always represent the best and brightest.”

Tip No.4:- Think about happiness, ideals, or power when you enter into a new group, and you will still have status days later due to the precedent setting assertiveness.

5. Fake it until you make it.

This applies in almost any area of human behaviour. Whether you wish to get that new job, meet the partner of your dreams or lead from the front. Do you remember those terrible teenage years of angst, doubt and embarrassment around the opposite sex? I do. Only for it to change miraculously when I put aside my school uniform and replaced it with a hard earned Royal Marines Commando beret. What changed? Confidence in my self or was it the clothes?

As a young officer, having had a year’s leadership training, I remember feeling like a fraud and waiting for one of my 34 strong team to call me out. Many years on, I meet plenty of CEO’s and senior leaders who share the same thoughts and feelings of doubt. How could the younger me or, those out there in a similar position, change that sense of doubt?

Do you remember applying for the job that was out of your league? I don’t, but I do remember looking at it and rejecting it only to have a friend pick up the advert and say “ if you are not going for it, do you mind if I do!” - I remember thinking ‘Go for it -You have no chance!’ They did and they got the job! I like to think I am more humble now but at the time I was shocked and angry. For the next 6 months they were continually asking me for ‘stuff’ or how do I do this or that? So what was the difference between us?

The answer to these questions is easy to identify - Self confidence or Self belief. The solution is harder to embed or just as easy depending on your mindset. “If you think you can or you think you can’t you are right!” So just change the negative thought with something more useful. According to Ibarra (HBR Jan 15) “By viewing ourselves as works in progress, we multiply our capacity to learn, avoid being pigeonholed, and ultimately become better leaders. We’re never too experienced to fake it till we learn it.” Take a lesson from children they practice being like us and follow our example.

Ask yourself ‘Who is the best at this i know? How do they behave? What do they do that is significantly different from the way I currently act? If I behaved like them would I be more or less likely to get what I want?”

Tip No. 5:- Role model the behaviour of successful people. Act ‘as if’ you are a certain way, you'll come to feel that way.

Any organization change I have worked on comes down to the same thing. To change the organization you need to change the leaders or change the leaders! It is quicker and cheaper to change the way your leaders think, feel and act. The tips in this thought piece are a starting point. We are the leaders we have been looking for and we can make the difference that makes the difference or as Gandhi put it: “You must become the change you want to see”

Gordon Mackenzie

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