Leadership Unlimited is a career column by Terry Wall, MBA '97. Terry is a recognized expert on strategy, leadership, and productivity, who will share his experiences and tips each month.
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I often tell managers to "look in the mirror first." This means first considering how YOU can improve, before thinking about how others can improve. One problem with this advice is that the mirror doesn't always tell the truth.
Sometimes the mirror outright lies.
It's because on certain issues or skills, we often don't see ourselves the way other see us. I call these areas "blind spots"—things that we just don't see in ourselves, but that are glaringly obvious to others.
Some blind spots are minor. Several years ago, I was giving a presentation, and a friend came up afterwards, and said that during the 45-minute presentation, I had used the word "absolutely" 20 times.
Was this a blind spot? Absolutely. (Oops!) But other blind spots are much more serious.
The manager who rules by fear, and who thinks that fear garners employees' respect. He or she doesn't realize that employees have no respect for a tyrannical manager.
It goes the other way, too. Some managers dislike confrontation so much, that they never deal directly with performance problems. Rather than being seen as "nice," the employees see this manager as "indecisive" or "wimpy."
What you see when you "look in the mirror" must match what others see when they look at you. Otherwise, you're operating with huge "blind spots" that will ultimately get you in trouble.
So, you need feedback on how others see you. How do you get that feedback?
One way is simply to ask. You tell people that you're really interested in how they see you.
Another way to get feedback is to use a 360-degree feedback survey. This allows peers, direct reports, bosses, and customers to rate your abilities.
I use an online survey, the Leadership Acceleration Profile 360. It lets people provide information, while protecting the respondents' confidentiality. The manager sees the feedback, but doesn't know who said what.
When coaching a client, I combine both methods. I interview some people one-on-one, AND administer the online survey. Some people are more comfortable talking one-on-one; others prefer the anonymity of an online survey. By using both methods, I appeal to both types of people.
Whether you're asking people directly, or using a 360-degree feedback tool, or doing both, you must make sure that people know that you're truly interested in their opinions. And that you'll use the information to improve your performance.
If people sense that you're just going through the motions, you'll waste everyone's time, and just make matters worse.
Then you have to be ready to receive their feedback. Some will be good, some will be bad, and you need a thick skin to accept it.
Getting feedback, though, is the only way to improve. How consistent is what you see in the mirror, with what other people see in you? What are your blind spots? What will you do to improve?