Most people focus on making a good first impression, but neglect to plan how they will continue the relationship in the future. Of course, making a good first impression is important. But sometimes what you see at first is not what you get. Often the assumptions we make about people are wrong.
Developing a rapport with someone often takes longer to nurture. Businesspeople need to have a plan of how they will progress from the first impression to the continuing partnership. So how do we do this in business? How can you make the impression you want, and then keep impressing them enough to create a lasting relationship?
For YPO member Heather Shantora and her company, success is all about relationships. Shantora is the CEO of InnoCare, a Canada-based global technology company specializing in clinic management software and services tailored to healthcare, wellness, and physical rehabilitation clinics. InnoCare is designed to create and maintain strong relationships in healthcare delivery so that each patient has the best experience possible.
Shantora makes it her business to initiate, develop, and maintain strong relationships. She shared with me the importance of making a great first impression, and then following up in a way that helps to keep that relationship close and productive for both parties.
1. "Be so good they can't ignore you."
Steve Martin told Charlie Rose that his advice for aspiring comedians was to "be so good they can't ignore you." Shantora follows this direction to the letter. "If you are good, there is never a need to be attention seeking and flashy. Your work will simply speak for itself," she says. If they can't argue with the quality of your work, they'll base their first impression on that instead of on something more subjective. She says business requires you to be "confident but not full of bravado; that's how you stand out in the long run." Let your performance do the talking in the beginning, and it will continue to talk throughout your relationship.
2. Be genuine in your relationships.
Shantora always gets to know the people she's working with, and she sincerely cares about them. She explains, "Their success is my success. If people know that you care about them, they will care back." But this isn't just altruism. "Some view this as soft, but my view is that all good, sustainable business comes from win-win relationships." If you connect with people on a human level, it deepens their engagement in and commitment to your business dealings together.
3. Engage with your competitors.
Businesses in the same industry don't have to be at odds. In fact, Shantora suggests we should worry less about competing for market share, and more about becoming better as an industry and creating more overall demand. Shantora expresses her enthusiasm for the possibilities when she says, "My frame of mind is one of learning from one another and innovating in new and creative ways. Instead of trying to one-up each other, we can leverage each other's strengths. To me, this is the epitome of working smarter, not harder." By working together, you can make both your industry and your individual business that much stronger.
4. Know the ins and outs of your business.
Unlike some CEOs, Shantora believes her job requires her to be intimately involved in the finer details of the business. "For me, it's important that at every level of the business, I am able to meet an individual in their role and know about their day and job. They are consistently surprised that I know and care about the details." Some CEOs don't get involved at this granular level, but for Shantora, "I don't comprehend how one can make decisions about the business if they don't." Another reason for this approach is "knowing which dark corners of the business to probe. Working 'in' the business is actually as important as working 'on' the business," she explains. All CEOs know about industry trends and higher-level analysis, but sometimes leaders need to get into the weeds to make sure their business is functioning properly.
5. Surround yourself with people who challenge you.
Great leaders don't mind being questioned. "I highly value people who don't think similarly to me, and what they can bring to a discussion that I may not have considered. A strong team and strong company is made of several minds, not one," Shantora says. Listening to a variety of opinions helps your company grow and helps you become a better CEO. Shantora explains, "Diversity of minds enables me to identify my own blind spots, and I use that to become a better leader." Don't be afraid of being challenged. Instead, use the smarts of the people around you to help your company grow.
6. Make the most of what you've got.
Shantora is a big believer in a healthy self-awareness. "There's power in knowing what I do well and where my weaknesses are. Acknowledging it makes me stronger, not weaker," she professes. Knowing your limitations allows you to seek the right expert to do that part of the job. Shantora also uses this knowledge to help allocate her time, explaining, "Spend your time optimizing your strengths. That will get you much further than wasting your time trying to eliminate your weaknesses." Developing self-awareness takes time to master, but it is an invaluable skill that will help you and your company achieve peak performance.
7. Be the underdog who over-delivers.
Who doesn't love an underdog? Even if this cliché is usually applied to sports, it is powerful in business, too. Jim Collins' research in Good to Great shows that a consistent feature of great CEOs is humility, and to Shantora, the underdog mentality requires humility in abundance. Shantora explains that "underdogs fight harder and work harder, and ultimately that helps us get ahead." The more difficult part is maintaining that underdog attitude through the highs and lows of business. If you're at a low, use the underdog passion to prove the naysayers wrong. If you're at a high, always work to exceed client expectations. Shantora asserts, "Embrace being the underdog! Resilience is a winning leadership quality." Don't become complacent in your success. Instead, retain the fire that got you there in the first place.
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