The more I work with leaders the more that I understand a core skill of being a leader in an organisation (as distinct from a person holding a senior position) is to close the gap between your intent and your impact… because people don’t judge you for your intent, they judge you on your impact.
One meeting - two perspectives
One story in particular stands out for me. A young employee had an important meeting with a senior manager. This person wanted to discuss a challenge with their current project and needed to voice their concerns . I spoke with the manager after the meeting, and their perspective was it was a great conversation that went really well. When I next saw the junior person a few days later, the story was very different. They had been made to feel not listened to and not cared about and found the whole experience upsetting and isolating. I could not have heard two more different versions of the same meeting. And stories like these are not hard to find. Why were these two experiences so different?
Busy managers make their people feel treated unfairly
Recent research conducted by Sherf, Venkataramani and Gajendran published in the Academy of Management Journal and highlighted in this article in HBR (When managers are overworked they treat employees less fairly) found that being busy as a manager can exacerbate employees feelings of being treated unfairly… and how often do we describe our days as 'busy'. You don't intend to make people feel treated unfairly, or excluded, or not cared about, but that's the impact that you have when you are too busy to take the time to listen and pay attention to the whole person.
In the story above, the senior person thought the most important thing was to get to the core of the issue and find a solution quickly. What was overlooked was the need to pause and express some empathy, concern and care for the person raising the issue. (as a side note, I will explore compassion and kindness in a later blog post…)
To close the gap first you must know how big the gap is
So how do you close the gap between your intent and impact? I will continue to explore the answer to this question throughout these posts as many of the practices and behaviours I will discuss contribute to closing this gap. For this post I want to talk about feedback…
The power of asking for feedback
Before you can close the gap between your intent and impact, you must first know what the gap is (yes, I'm assuming that there will be one). And the way to find this out is to simply ask people… yes, that awful word - feedback… Ask people:
How do they experience you at work?
How are you perceived?
What is the impact that you have?
What does it look like when you are at your best, and when is that?
What does it look like when you are at your worst and when is that?
You could set up a simple survey so that people can respond anonymously, you could ask someone else to gather the feedback for you or you could just go and talk to people. It depends on how you think people will feel most comfortable responding. This 2017 article provides some further thoughts on discovering how are you perceived at work.
Some of the most powerful moments I've had with leaders and teams is when playing back feedback from others, and my own observations, of their strengths and weaknesses. This can lead to some very powerful insights and be a deep bonding moment that builds trust.
A bonus of asking for feedback is that it reduces the threat response system in the brain that is triggered when we receive feedback, and it puts the giver in a more relaxed state meaning that both parties are able to think more clearly and relate to each other more effectively throughout the process.
Research is also starting to show that when asking for feedback becomes a habit through the whole organisation it can lead to building a culture of continuous improvement, better decision making and more effective teams. A more detailed exploration of the neuroscience of asking for feedback can be found in this article by David Rock Using neuroscience to make feedback work and feel better
So, take a small first step into this world and identify someone who knows you well, who sees you often at work, whose opinion you trust and cares enough about you to be honest with you. Ask them if they'd be comfortable giving you some feedback. If you're not sure how comfortable they will be then you could do a gentle introduction to the idea by email and give them an option of responding to you in person, by email or through someone else.
And let me know how you go. I'm really curious to hear your stories and what you learn about yourself and others.
In my next post, I'll continue this theme and talk about how to manage your impact in the moments that matter the most… take a deep breath.