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Creating a self portrait: Managers need to think about the image of themselves they create in the minds of others. (Leading Edge).

A well-qualified security professional was interviewing for an important new position with a large corporation. She had done some homework on the firm and discovered that it was looking for a leader who could be especially innovative. During the interview, the security professional attempted to discuss several of her noteworthy accomplishments that were also creative. Unfortunately, the applicant didn't know that the interviewing panel had already checked two of her references. The references thought well of the former employee, hut emphasized her practical, down-to-earth nature, not her creativity. The panel members saw a red flag in the noticeable difference between how the applicant appeared in the interview and how others described her. They thought her creativity was a front. She didn't get the job.

Perceptions can get in the way of any security manager's attempts to be successful, whether in interviewing for a top job, implementing a new security procedure, or gathering support for a budget increase. However, security professionals can change how others perceive them. A useful strategy for creating the right perceptions includes making a good initial impression, understanding others' perceptions, knowing your audience, and adapting to the corporate culture. Security managers can then correct unfavorable perceptions.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS. When starting in a new position, managers are so caught up in all the pressing details of making an effective transition that they sometimes forget the importance of first impressions. Unfortunately, poor first impressions may never go away. It is when a manager first appears before an audience that he or she should consciously behave in such a way as to project the character traits that other people need to see.

People are quick to embrace a belief, even without much evidence, and are very slow to give up that belief, even if they know it is probably wrong. This is true for perceptions in general. Therefore, it makes sense to invest heavily in starting out right.

Character traits that employees and coworkers need to see immediately are self-confidence tempered by humility, a genuine interest and respect for others, and a willingness to grow and listen. Other qualities that a manager might want to project include trustworthiness, courage, likeability, and integrity. (The point here is not to suggest that managers 'Take it." They must possess these traits or learn to develop them; the image they want to project cannot merely be skin deep.)

It pays to have a definite strategy in projecting these character traits. For instance, managers who want to gain trust should not go into a new situation and immediately make drastic changes or ask intimidating questions of employees. Managers must eliminate fear to build trust. If managers want people to communicate with them openly, they must not appear aloof, standoffish, or uninterested. If managers want to emphasize the value of creative thinking, they must not seem to be making judgments about the quality of employees' thoughts.

STAY IN TOUCH. Managers cannot deal effectively with a problem they know nothing about. It is often the unknown perceptions that others have that are most damaging. For example, a security manager serving on a legislative committee always gave the impression that he was arrogant and self-centered. Actually, the manager gave that impression whenever he was caught up in the passion of his convictions. This misperception kept people from listening to what he had to say.

In another situation, a manager was perceived as cold and uncaring when he attempted to distance himself from employees. He was only trying to maintain a professional demeanor.

Understanding the perceptions of others is no easy task because managers rarely get the opportunity to ask Even if they do ask, they may not get accurate and complete information. The first step in this process is to establish both formal and informal systems for getting reliable and useful feedback about the perceptions of others. Formal input might be garnered by making manager assessments a part of the annual reviews or project critiques. Informal input can be gathered through casual conversation with trusted associates.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. As you begin a new job and start to shape your image, you should also make sure that you understand the perspective of your audience. If not, the message you intend will not be the one received. For example, a prison warden was distressed to find that his managers were reluctant to implement any of his suggested security provisions. The warden was left with the impression that his ideas were perceived as impractical and that instead of working with the concepts, managers would dismiss them as unrealistic.

To see if this was true, the manager asked his managers to rate him on his supervisory style and behavior according to their perceptions. Unfortunately, the managers all rated the warden as more idealistic and theoretical than practical. Only after asking his employees repeatedly did the warden learn that the impression came from his use of the letters "Ph.D." next to his name. Most of the staff at the prison interpreted the warden's insistence on the moniker as a sign that his ideas would be of little use on a practical level.

ADAPT TO THE CULTURE. In corporate culture, certain words and actions take on special significance. If a manager does not appreciate this fact, he or she cannot avoid negative perceptions. When moving to a new job or relocating to a new office, therefore, the manager should take time to learn the relevant cultural realities.

For example, when the author was working as a district manager for a large private security company, he was relocated to a new city. In the culture of the new office, birthdays were extremely important. Forgetting a birthday meant forgetting the person. Not wanting to appear insensitive, the author made sure to note the birth dates of all his coworkers, even though they numbered in the hundreds.

Another critical factor in corporate culture is hierarchy and style of interaction. A manager may need to pay more attention to where he or she fits in the pecking order so as not to offend anyone by breaking the chain of command. The manager should also note whether communications with executives are typically formal or informal in the organization, whether the executives place a lot of importance on socializing at corporate functions, and other stylistic issues.

CORRECT MISPERCEPTIONS. Changing incorrect perceptions is difficult. However, managers can make the task easier by following a few commonsense guidelines. In trying to change an unfavorable impression, managers must first learn the details. If a manager is being perceived as unfriendly, what exactly does that mean? The object is for the manager to identify specifically what it is that he or she is doing or saying to create this incorrect impression.

Managers can rarely create the right perception or change another person's misperception through words alone. In fact, it is more likely that such words will just reinforce that unfavorable perception. People have to see tangible changes in behavior before they are willing to reconsider a certain idea they presently have.

Thus, managers must stop doing or saying whatever is creating the problem and substitute new highly visible behaviors that will create the desired perception. If a manager wants to be perceived as hands-on, he or she should start working alongside the troops. If a manager is seen as being indecisive and thus less credible, then he or she must start practicing more consistency and resolve.

When managers learn how people perceive them, they must model the right behaviors from the beginning, pay attention to little things, understand corporate culture, and use the change process to their advantage. By taking these steps, managers can shape the desired perception. Positive perceptions can, in turn, help managers become more successful in everything they undertake.

William Cottringer, Ph.D., is a security consultant, security expert witness, college instructor, and writer in St. Louis, Missouri. He is author of Re-braining for 2000, "P" Point Management, and You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too.
COPYRIGHT 2002 American Society for Industrial Security
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Author:Cottringer, William
Publication:Security Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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