5 Steps to Leadership Growth: #2 Perception

What do others think of you: your strengths, your impact, how you could be even more effective?

Why is this important?

In the framework I use with leaders in their development, it’s the second step. As you grow in your leadership – honing your “Power of One,” this framework can help both you and those you are developing to stay on course:

  1. Purpose
  2. Perception
  3. Plan
  4. Performance
  5. Perpetuation

The first definition of Perception by the Merriam –Webster Dictionary: [Perception is] “the way you think about or understand someone (or something).”

People perceive us all of the time. Sometimes those perceptions matter to us. Sometimes they don’t. It is up to you to decide which ones do.

As a leadership coach and consultant in organizations, I have seen many instances where it would have helped the leader to care about perceptions. Like when a valued staff member left unexpectedly. Or because turnover of the team was high. Or an expected promotion didn’t materialize.

So often, we miss the opportunity to sincerely and honestly elicit feedback and input from the people who see us working, talking, resolving conflict, interacting with customers, cranking out the work, all day, every day. In the workplace, where we work day in and day out with people, we should have a good handle on how people perceive us, particularly those that matter – our boss, our boss’s boss, our direct reports, our trusted peers. And in order to assure that we are really being effective, it is critical that we are getting that information on how others perceive us on a regular basis.

In his seminal book on executive development, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith says, “In soliciting feedback for yourself, the only question that works – the only one! – must be phrased like this: “How can I do better?” . . . Semantic variations are permitted, such as . . . “What can I do to be a better colleague at work?” or “What can I do to be a better leader of this group?” . . . Pure unadulterated issue-free feedback that makes change possible has to (a) solicit advice rather than criticism, (b) be directed towards the future rather than obsessed with the negative past, and (c) be couched in a way that suggest you will act on it; that in fact you are trying to do better.”

A 360° Feedback process with a trusted coach is an excellent (and often life-altering!) way to get great feedback from those who know us the best at work. The coach will ask superiors, peers and staff that the leader has chosen questions about the leader’s strengths and how s/he can use them more often, opportunities for increased effectiveness, how the leader reacts under stress, organizational obstacles that get in the way of the leader’s effectiveness, and suggestions on how to immediately improve.

Helping Our Team Members Get Feedback

Even if you don’t have a coach, you and your team members can get into the habit of having honest conversations about one another’s strengths and opportunities to improve. I often will suggest that leadership teams adopt the practice that Patrick Lencioni suggests in Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. On a regular basis, the members of the team go around the table and ask one another, “What is one thing I am doing really well? What is one area in which I can improve that would really help the team?” And then everyone makes a commitment to take that feedback and apply the suggestions.

Of course, performance reviews are an excellent opportunity to get and provide feedback on a 6 – 12 month basis. But my advice is, don’t wait for that. Start asking the questions now from the people who know you well, and take their input to heart. Enjoy!

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