The Observer of Perception

Sometimes as a manager, I not only want to coach people on how to get things done at work, I'd love to be able to help them change the way they think.  Early in my career, an engineering coworker used to say that it's all about "behavior modification" but I truly never understood what he meant at the time.  Now I do.

In your current role, how you think about the work you do is affected by many different things, how new you are, the hierarchy or structure of the team, the culture and philosophy of the team, and unspoken expectations that just occur between coworkers due to human nature.  All of these external forces push you to act and think a certain way at work.  If you are a new hire, you are expected to be learning and you expect people won't listen to you until you form some credibility with your team members so you stay quiet, in that learning mode, until you feel others will accept your ideas.    But how long will that take?  And what if you get so used to thinking as a junior engineer or expecting to be treated like a junior engineer, that your own thought process is holding you back from career growth?  Your journey through the ranks is filled with personal opportunities to change perception.  If you rely solely on your ability to deliver and complete your tasks, you may find it difficult to make those jumps in your career to the next levels.  It's a combination of accomplishments and perception that will get you there.  But first, you have to understand the perception.  Be the observer of perception. 

I've coached many engineers who are trying to go into more senior engineering roles.  They have a great track record to prove they can do it.  What they are missing is how people are interacting with them.  Team members need to interact with them as though they are more senior.  And that won't happen as long as the perception is that they are junior.  To change perceptions, one needs to do so "behavior modification".  It's not just about what you do.  It's about how you think and how you say things.  My advice to get someone on the right track is to have that person pretend he/she is more senior.  If you put on that senior "costume", you will approach problems and people in a different way.  You may find that you speak up more often, give out more advice, and talk to others with a level of confidence that makes them perceive you as a more senior person.  The more people perceive you this way, the more opportunities you will have to act this way through mentoring or reviewing others work.  They will depend on you to help them with their work.  And this "pretending" starts becoming reality.  You've now changed perception as well as how you think about things.  And that means you truly are a more senior engineer.

The same is true with leads/managers/supervisors.  My advice to leads is that the only way you are going to become a more senior lead is to find ways that require other leads to follow you.  If you drive an initiative across other teams, other leads may need to follow you.  Leading by example is a great way to do this - show that your team did something good and share that with other leads.  This is the start of establishing yourself as a leader of leads.  The more you act this way, the more you truly become this person.  Perception changes, your thought patterns change, and you are there.

So although many people believe growing a career involves hard work and dedication, which it does, it also involves a good dose of perception and behavior modification.