The President’s secretary called to schedule a meeting. The meeting was to discuss feedback that had been received from my peers and employees. Now that didn’t sound positive to me. I couldn’t imagine what this meant; no one had said anything to me that would indicate something was wrong. Rather than get myself all worked up, I decided not to speculate and wait until the meeting.
The meeting began with polite, small talk. Then the President stated that he wanted to share with me some feedback that he had received and was concerned because it reflected upon my ability to meet my performance expectations. His words were like shock waves. I was devastated and couldn’t imagine what this was all about.
He continued, “Your peers don’t think you are a team player.” “Your employees see you as controlling.” If you are to be an effective leader in our company, neither of these behaviors are acceptable.
I was in shock. The fact that the President had called me in to share this with me rather than asking my peers and employees to speak with me directly suggested that he shared these thoughts too. How could this be? From my perspective, I had been giving my all to both the team and organization. Working over sixty hours a week, holding weekly individual meetings with my staff and monthly team meetings. No one had ever said they thought I was “controlling.” And what about my peers? Always responding to their requests in a timely manner and soliciting feedback on projects that impacted their areas. Not one of them had ever said to me that they thought I wasn’t a team player. After getting over my initial shock, I asked the President to share examples of my behaviors that suggested their perspectives. His examples left me even more perplexed. Bringing the meeting to a close, he asked me “What are YOU going to do to turn things around?” Needing time to clear my emotions so that my thinking would be objective, I told him my action plan would be on his desk the next morning. Back in my office, I closed my door so that I could reflect privately on all that was shared.
It was clear to me there was a BIG problem. My perceptions were not matching those of my employees and peers. Given the disconnect, I needed someone who could be objective to help me sort this out. One of the consultants of the HR firm that the company used came to mind. Immediately, I reached for the phone and gave him a call. After explaining the situation, he helped me understand that as long as everyone had “their perceptions,” regardless to whether I thought they were accurate or not, it was their reality; hence would impact my leadership performance. He further emphasized that to change their perceptions, would require me understanding what precipitated them and then doing what was necessary to change the perceptions. The consultant then guided me in the development of a 3-prong plan targeting relationships with my employees, peers, and the president. And it started with a self-assessment of my personality preferences. Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the consultant helped me to understand how my preferences differed from my team, peers, and the president. We then planned a team retreat and structured 1:1 meetings with my peers and the President.
My effort resulted in changed perceptions of me. After investing the time with my peers, they realized that my focus on results was not about “outperforming them” but was tied to my passion to “achieve results.” Working with my team, I learned that “my preferences” for structure and organization was different from theirs. Most of my team “preferred options and flexibility.” They saw behaviors associated with my preference as “controlling.” I saw the behaviors associated with theirs as “inefficient and sometimes costly.” This self- assessment helped me to respect difference and learn how to flex when appropriate. Updating my President regularly about my actions, lessons learned and results, helped him to understand that I was committed to being an effective leader in the company.
The following five important lessons emerged from this situation.
- Understanding my personal preferences helped me to understand how to manage them when working with others whose preferences are different.
- Spending time with others outside of the time in meetings and working on projects is necessary so that relationships are established that help everyone to have a better understanding of each other.
- Periodically checking in with others to verify my assumptions is necessary.
- Another person’s perception is their reality, regardless of whether you agree.
- If you want someone to have a different perception, it is up to you to put the effort into doing what is necessary to facilitate the change.
- When has someone had a perception of you that was different from what you thought it should be? How did your perception and theirs differ?
- Did you own changing the perception? If so, what did you do? Did you get your desired outcomes?