A common theme that I’ve recently observed among several of my executive coaching clients is the challenge of reinventing yourself in an environment where leaders, colleagues, and direct reports already have an established perception of you. Is it possible to make changes to your leadership style, interpersonal interactions, or other professional behaviors while in your current position? Or do you have to leave your organization and start anew in order to alter how others perceive you?
The response to these questions is determined partly by the specific situation. If your reputation has been severely damaged, either by circumstance or your own efforts, it can be difficult to recover in your current environment. But let’s focus instead on more routine professional behaviors.
For example, many of my clients struggle with being too nice or too willing to say yes. Their likability, initiative and reputation as a strong team player have traditionally served them well in their careers. These very behaviors have allowed them to reach higher levels of leadership in their organizations. But now they find themselves in more complex political situations that require them to take a tougher stance. They don’t know how to be more assertive or decisive with colleagues who are accustomed to a very different style.
As anyone who has ever tried to make personal or professional changes knows, it is virtually impossible to create change in a vacuum. Have you ever tried to improve your diet as the rest of your family continues to snack on junk food? Or have you tried to unilaterally change the way you communicate with your spouse or partner? If so, you can appreciate how difficult it is to achieve success without the support and involvement of others.
It is possible to reinvent yourself in your current job but you must be strategic about your approach. Here are some steps to help you create positive change without alienating, confusing, or disrespecting your colleagues.
1. Seek external feedback
Often our self-perceptions differ from the perceptions of those around us. Is your leadership style or behavior really undermining your success? Seek the feedback of others to understand how they see you.
Whether through formal feedback, such as a 360-degree assessment, or informal feedback through open communication with peers and leaders, try to assess how your leadership style might be hurting you. Look for examples of how your behavior may be impacting others. For instance, your team may feel that your niceness is keeping you from fighting for resources that they need to more effectively do their jobs. Or your boss might think that you’re taking too long to make important business decisions because you’re worried about upsetting others.
It’s easy to fall back into old patterns of behavior, particularly during busy or stressful times. Direct feedback can motivate you to follow through on making changes. It can also help you to prioritize specific areas of focus.
2. Communicate your goals
Making others aware of your goals can have many benefits. Firstly, letting trusted leaders and peers know your professional development goals, such as becoming more assertive, gives them a heads up that behavioral changes may be coming. Because they understand your plan, they won’t be blindsided when you take a tougher stance on an important issue.
Secondly, the colleagues you entrust with this information can provide support and encouragement. They can share their own strategies and best practices for handling specific situations, which you can adopt or modify as you try out new behaviors. As you adapt your leadership style by experimenting in new situations, ask for their feedback. How did they perceive the behavior? Did it have the effect you were going for?
And finally, sharing your goals with others can hold you accountable to yourself. Once that message is out there, people will be watching. You’ll be much more likely to take risks and step outside your comfort zone if you’ve made a public commitment.
3. Make incremental changes
Don’t expect to transform yourself overnight. Making any type of change takes time, so allow yourself the space to take this slowly. Begin with lower risk action steps that feel less stressful or intimidating. For example, setting a new boundary with a peer may feel less overwhelming than pushing back on your boss. As you build confidence and become more comfortable in your new role, you can tackle other areas.
Making incremental changes also allows others to get more comfortable with the new you. As you ease into new behaviors, they will transition along with you. It won’t feel as dramatic or sudden if you take it slowly.
Reinventing yourself at work can feel challenging or scary but it is possible. Have you reinvented yourself in the past? Share your thoughts and experiences here.