The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you make a great first impression at work?” is written by Subir Chowdhury, chairman and CEO of ASI Consulting Group and author of The Difference: When Good Enough Isn't Enough.
During a recent consulting engagement with a company in the manufacturing industry, I was surprised when a senior executive asked me, “What do you do with a toothpick when you’re done with it?” Confused as to what this question had to do with our agenda, I gave the obvious answer: “I throw it in the trash.”
The executive explained that earlier that morning, he was troubled to notice a used toothpick on the floor in the office hallway. Such a (literally) small thing bothered him in a big way, because it indicated that somebody in his company didn’t even care enough about their work environment to throw a toothpick in the trash instead of leaving it on the floor. No wonder the company had just gotten bad marks on quality from an influential ratings organization. People there just didn’t care.
The best way to make a great first impression in a new job, whether you work in a school, startup or massive corporation, is to show people you care. I believe there are four attributes of a caring mindset: straightforwardness, thoughtfulness, accountability, and resolve. Here’s what I mean by each of those:
To be straightforward is to be honest, direct, open, and fair. For example, young professionals starting out in their careers often hesitate to be straightforward about how much they don’t know, or to admit when they have made a mistake. But people around you know that you’re learning, and will be more appreciative if you’re honest about your shortcomings than if you pretend not to have any.
Thoughtfulness is the practice of empathy. To empathize with someone, you have to listen to them. Listening is an underrated skill. Beyond just hearing what your boss and colleagues are saying, pay attention to the meaning of their words and be observant of what they might be feeling but not saying. And above all else, be kind.
This is a big one: being accountable means taking responsibility for your actions. If you know something needs to get done, and you know you can do it, make it happen—even if it’s something as little as restocking the printer paper you just used up. Avoid the instinct to say “That’s not my job” or “I’m just the new guy.” Take action in constructive ways, and people will notice.
People who have resolve possess the passion, determination, and perseverance to solve a problem or improve a situation. They also recognize that meaningful change often does not happen overnight. In your new job, avoid the temptation to adopt quick-fix solutions that make you look good in the short term but do little to achieve long-term goals. Be willing to adapt your approach in order to solve a problem. Last but not least, don’t settle for “good enough.” Strive to excel at tasks big and small.
And always throw your used toothpicks in the trash.