I make my living in large measure helping executives understand how others see them, and then deciding what to do about that. The truth is that while most of us have a fairly complete knowledge of how other people’s behavior affects us, we are generally clueless as to how our behavior affects others, or how they perceive us.
One of the ways that I facilitate executives’ self-awareness is by getting feedback from their bosses, peers and those who report to them. It sounds easy and straightforward; it’s not. Here’s why: While many organizations solicit feedback as a part of their leadership development initiatives, most of that feedback is useless because it is too generic and not actionable. A recent personal example:
The CEO of a large multi-national company and its Chief HR Officer hired me to work with the new President of the company’s largest division. After meeting with those two gentlemen with my coaching client and subsequently mapping out the engagement, my first order of business was to collect feedback from a dozen individuals, including the CEO, peers, and members of my client’s team, who could/would give me insight into my client’s effectiveness.
In advance of each interview, I sent those people an explanation of my approach along with four categories for them to consider: My client’s strengths, his weaknesses, things that he did that he should stop doing, and things that he didn’t do that he should start doing. My first discussion was with the CEO. Under the category of “weaknesses,” the first thing he mentioned was my client’s “rough engagement style.”
I looked at him quizzically and asked him what that meant. He returned my gaze with a perplexed look and asked the following: “You can’t be serious! You don’t know what that is?”
My response: “I know what comes to mind when someone uses that label, but I can’t do anything about it; it’s too generic. It describes a state of being rather than specific things he is doing when he demonstrates his style. I can’t wait until someone has a philosophical epiphany to propel change. I work with a person to change what he is doing. With that in mind: When he is demonstrating his rough engagement style, what is it that he’s doing?”
After a moment of silent reflection, the CEO responded: “Well … one thing he does regularly is really irritating. During meetings, he will routinely cut people off in mid-sentence to make a point. It really angers people when he does that.”
My response: “Terrific! Now we’re making headway.” I wanted to dig deeper into this point, so I asked the following: “Does he do this with specific people or in specific situations exclusively, or does he do it all of the time?”
Again, after some thought, the CEO responded: “You know Rand … he really only does that with three people: our CFO, our Chief HR Officer, and our General Counsel.”
I continued to probe for the reasons that might help …