People Are Talking About You Around the Water Cooler

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People Are Talking About You Around the Water Cooler

When you move into leadership in the corporate world, you become the one everyone talks about around the water cooler.  It’s the reality of leadership. The relationship has changed forever. And the longer you stay in the role, no matter what you do, it seems harder to get the truth from people. In my coaching work, I’ve found that the higher you go up the corporate ladder, the less truth you actually get.  This brings up two important questions:

  • How do I understand how I am being perceived as a leader?
  • How do I get the real story when people are not telling me? 

Here are four suggestions to get the truth about how you are perceived and what is actually going on in your organization.  It takes time and energy, but if you do it well, it saves more time and builds trust.

Get Formal Feedback
We are working with 3 organizations and over 60 leaders ranging from first level manager to CEO in obtaining 360 feedback. This is a formal process where we gather anonymous feedback online, from the boss, direct reports, and peers.  We provide the leader with a confidential report with anonymous feedback that includes quantitative and qualitative feedback. Some may be hard to hear, but it is usually very truthful.  In our work, we help leaders create actions to address concerns coming out of the 360.

Ask For Feedback Directly
Of all the skills we teach, giving and receiving feedback is the one we find people just don’t do very well.  To do this, don’t put people on the spot in public meetings, unless you’ve set the stage with some trust and ground rules.  Rather, one day in a team meeting, say something like the following:  “You know, one of the hallmarks of good leadership is asking for input.  Over the next few weeks, I will be meeting with each of you.  At that time, I will ask one simple question:  What can I do more of, less of, or different, to best support you in your role?  So please, give that some thought, and I will expect to hear one thing.”  Then, simply move on to another topic. But make sure you follow up and schedule the meeting.   When you meet, do it one-on-one and ask the question, shut-up, listen, and simply say, “Thank you”.  The more you try and justify or argue or explain, the more you will erode trust and discourage future feedback.

Build Intentional, Regular Practices to Here and Share Information
Bring your team together on a regular basis to simply spend a few minutes assessing a topic, discuss what is working, what is not, and what actions to take next.  For example, you want to discuss how the team is doing on a project, or how your team is holding each other accountable. Your job is to ask the questions and listen to the responses. Just because you hear something you don’t like or agree with, you don’t have to give an opinion every time.  Of course, you still have the authority to decide to use their input or not, but simply building this process increases trust and will give you much more accurate information.

Once You Get The Feedback, Follow The 5-10% Rule
We often get overwhelmed when we get feedback, especially if our egos are fragile or we are feeling particularly vulnerable.  We simply have to take some hits. Leadership is not a popularity contest and if you haven’t disappointed someone, you are probably not demonstrating courageous leadership.  With over a thousand hours of executive coaching over the past ten years, our firm has discovered this truth.  Once you get the feedback, you identify the 5-10% change you need to make. You work on it, and  you will very often find that a few months later, people are perceiving you very differently.  Your influence and effectiveness will increase, and others trust you more.  It helps to work with a coach or a valued mentor to identify the 5-10% and the actions to take.

I don’t know what feedback people want to give you, but if you are like most leaders with even a hint of emotional intelligence, getting the feedback and making small changes can yield significant results.  Trust me.

Over 50% of our work this year involves coaching, feedback, and 360 assessments.  People see results because use an evidence-based approach.  Let us know if we can support you or others within your organization.

Coach Rodney


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