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The first impressions of Mark Carney, the second impressions of Jose Mourinho

June 17, 2013

The arrival of Canadian Mark Carney on 1 July, a ‘rock-star’ central banker, as the new Governor of the Bank of England has led to much speculation about his potential impact on the economy. As Governor of the Bank of Canada, Carney is credited with helping to steer Canada’s economy through the financial crisis and its aftermath, with its banking system and reputation intact.

The British economy is in a slump worse than the Great Depression, both deeper and without the same vibrancy of the 1930s recovery, and with years of falling living standards. Many households are squeezed – a survey by a consumer advocacy group found that 20% of participants borrowed money or used savings to meet the cost of food in April.

The coalition Government remains committed to deficit reduction, despite criticism from the IMF, placing more pressure on monetary policy. The Bank has taken steps to grease growth, notably making changes in April to a program designed to lend money to banks for lending on to households and businesses. However, GDP in the UK is 2.5% below what it was at the start of the recession in 2008

Whilst the Chancellor (via the Treasury) decides on any fundamental changes in policy, and the MPC seems set on doing nothing to interest rates, Carney is expected to support a reformist agenda, no more so than in his ‘forward guidance’ approach on interest rates. Another area of conjecture is around quantitative easing and the possibility of a more creative approach to stimulate growth.

So how does Carney make an impact and a positive first impression? We’re told you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, but given that monetary policy decisions take around two years to have any real effect on the economy, expectations are unreasonably high for him.

Carney was clearly the best pick available in the central banker draft. There are better ones out there who were not available, not least my favourite central banker, Ben Bernanke, but it is going to be hard for Carney to deliver quickly as the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street moves even slower than a massive tanker. Touch the controls and very little happens for a long time. The concern is expectations may be too high, especially when the Government has been trying to claim that recovery is in the air.

That may give Carney little room to implement so-called forward guidance, a policy which involves trying to move market prices by telling investors how long low interest rates will be kept in place. The risks are that forward guidance either finds little traction or, conversely, erodes faith in the Bank’s commitment to fighting inflation. Pressure will be high to make his mark and do something, especially by subscribers to the Great Man theory of history.

Carney comes with formidable charm, a fearsome intellect and the polish you’d expect from alumni of Goldman Sachs. He’s expected to be a breath of fresh air, a plain-speaker and a force for transparency, an outsider with a fresh perspective. There is speculation he might bring in a more consensual type of policy-making, but Carney will only be able to play the hand he has been dealt.

But you never get a second chance to make a great first impression. We’ve all heard that the person opposite us will form an impression of our character, our personality – an impression that is nearly indelible – all within the first 60 seconds of meeting. Or is it 30 or 20 seconds?

However, research shows that you may need to get your act together in the blink of an eye. Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov revealed that it takes 0.1 seconds to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those impressions.

Like it or not, judgments based on facial appearance play a powerful role in how we treat others, and how we get treated. All the correlations between judgments made after a 0.1 second glimpse and judgments made without time constraints were high, but of all the traits, trustworthiness was the one with the highest correlation.

But before you rest secure in the knowledge that at least you have a whole 0.1 seconds to make that great first impression at your next client meeting, the authors acknowledge that research may well close that window even smaller. And in fact, 100ms may be being generous – Moshe Bar’s research demonstrated that consistent first impressions were made after 39ms.

The first impression of a person, product, or place sets the bar for any relationship. When you raise the bar, and manage to keep it there, odds are you can build an enduring relationship with a customer. Plus, today, first impressions are even more critical because of social media. People can post updates about an experience in real time. Their first impression, good or bad, can be broadcast in an instant to a vast audience.

It’s been said that the first impression is the last impression. If you lose it at the beginning, it is very hard to recover. Also, keep in mind that an impression can begin well before a customer steps into a physical location. It can start with a phone call, an email or a visit to a website.

The truth is most people when first meeting someone will quickly attempt to size them up. Whether consciously, or unconsciously, they will make quick value judgments in an effort to assess your credibility and flesh out your agenda. In most cases, the old saying perception is reality isn’t too far off. Perception can shape reality, even if said reality turns out to be a false reality.

In a perfect world, we would only be judged solely on our character, skill sets, competencies, and performance. But at a base level, most people will very quickly attempt to discern whether you are a person of significance or insignificance.

Let me be transparent and use my personal situation as an example. I actually prefer to play to the middle in that I am neither understated nor overstated, but I am comfortable with who I am and my approach to my clients. I will always attempt to put my best foot forward, but like me, love me, or hate me, I simply won’t feign appearances to win business.

What you see is what you get. I want to be respected, not liked. The advice I give to my clients is to be true to yourself, and authentic in your approach to creating a great first impression.

While much is often said about first impressions, subsequent impressions are made as well, and these computations are made at lightning speed. Researchers from Stern Business School at New York University found that we make eleven major decisions about one another in the first seven seconds of meeting.

Here’s the thing – it is not about how much you spend or spin, but the authenticity, integrity, and appropriateness of how you manage yourself that matters. When who you are on the inside is completely congruous with who you portray yourself to be on the outside you’ll find that life will just seem a bit more enjoyable. Disingenuous and insincere positioning may get your foot in the door, but when the door slams into your backside as your relationship blows up, it’s your own fault.

Without making a positive and lasting first impression, you may struggle to advance in business. While you can’t stop people from making snap decisions, they say ‘don’t go back’, but what about returning and making a ‘second impression’? Jose Mourinho has done just that, and will he create as much impact second time around?

It will warm many hearts to see Jose Mourinho presiding over cataclysmic failure in a second spell as manager of Chelsea, but sadly, the money-fuelled stratification of top-level English football is such that failure for Chelsea is unlikely.

History suggests lightening doesn’t strike twice, but it scarcely needs saying that having spent more than a decade being run on the impulse of an uncommunicative Russian oligarch with a mysteriously acquired fortune, Mourinho knows that initial impact on his return to Chelsea counts.

The rehiring of Mourinho may turn out fine on the pitch for the short-term, but it looks like another symbol of an organisation whirling in every decreasing circles, saved from the consequences of its vanity only by that of a so far reliable pipeline of cash. The fact that there was no call to Mourinho from either Manchester club says a lot.

Chelsea has burned managers – seven – at the same rate as cash since Mourinho left, an admission of failure to construct a plan for the club beyond a season at a time. Consequently, this left the field of candidates limited to such an extent that he became almost their only plausible remaining option.

Mourinho’s magnificent progress during the last 10 years — from Porto to Real Madrid – shows that he is one of the greatest managers of his age. But his naked hankering for adoration is his tragic flaw. Stroking his ego, by Chelsea’s fans and perhaps their insatiable owner too, Mourinho’s tenure now feels like a golden age worth reviving. For Mourinho himself, it represents a timely return to an old flame.

Now, common wisdom would suggest that getting back with an ex is a terrible idea, or at best a short-term hook-up. Usually it ends with everyone remembering why things didn’t work out first time round.

I see no reason why this won’t happen again. Mourinho’s return will be a far better sop for his ego than it will be a solution for Chelsea, whose problems are structural rather than managerial, on account of the owner being hard to please.

As I recall, Mourinho left Chelsea because of the incompatible demands of relentless winning on all fronts with the desire to meddle on the part of the owner. There may have been love on the terraces. But there was not so much of it in the boardroom.

But back to Mark Carney. Media interviews will enable us to assess whether the research of Willis and Todorov, and others, rings true, but since being named as Mervyn King’s successor six months ago, he has been continually hailed as a saviour for the British economy.

When it was pointed out to George Osborne that the Office for Budget Responsibility had forecast that the measures included in his most recent Budget would have no impact on the level of GDP, he replied that the estimate did not take into account the changes that Mr Carney would make. He is banking on Carney to deliver the recovery that he has not.

First impressions matter, but substance has the final word. If you had never seen or heard of Einstein, the first time you saw him your impression would most likely be negative. Now his face is associated with genius, not madness because he is the person who has come to define what genius is.

The problem is that few of us are Einsteins and we often don’t get the chance to rectify a negative first impression. Let’s hope Carney does make a great first impression, and stimulates growth. As for Mourinho, the only second coming that ever impressed me was The Stone Roses, with their eponymously titled second album, The Second Coming.

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