When Every Opinion Matters…Except Yours

I recently started reading Tom Rath and Barry Conchie’s book, Strengths Based Leadership. I love the concept in Rath’s StrengthsFinders 2.0 book, and I’ve implemented it with past and present teams. I was intrigued by the introduction of Strengths Based Leadership, and I want to share it with you. It said:

“In a recent Gallup Poll, we asked people to rate their own leadership ability. Out of 1,001 people randomly surveyed, 97% rated their ability to lead as being at or above average.”

I found this rating a bit shocking. Do you?

Now, I’m not disputing the Gallup findings, but I am struggling with the reality that 97% of these leaders are really as good as they think they are. I think it would be interesting to survey the employees of these 1,001 leaders. I wonder if  the rating would be any different, and if so, which rating would be closer to reality?

My money is on the employees, as I’ve learned over the years that my ability as a leader cannot be evaluated by me; it can only be evaluated by those around me.

Gaining Self Awareness

We usually have a keen awareness of who we want to be, but I’m not convinced we look through the right lens to assess the kind of leader we really are. Theory meets reality when “who we think we are” intersects with “those who we lead say we are.”

So how do you assess yourself? Well first, by not assessing yourself! Instead, talk to those around you.

Current team: Ask your current team to give you honest feedback. Team feedback is one of the quickest and steadiest ways to get and stay in tune. Keep in mind, you must accept this feedback without being defensive or creating excuses. Your reaction to their honest feedback will determine if they’ll ever give you honest feedback again. And if you don’t get honest feedback, what’s the point? (Note: The climate established in your leadership space will determine whether you can turn to your team for an honest assessment of your leadership or that of your team.)

Direct reports: Ask your direct reports to take a confidential, third-party 360 degree online survey. Make sure you follow up with the team on your results and your desire to improve.

• Close friends: Ask those close friends who love and care for you.

• Past employees: These employees should have no worries about being totally honest. They can neither be rewarded nor reprimanded since they no longer work for you, so their open feedback will be valuable.

Self-awareness as a leader is crucial, but gaining that awareness can be tricky. In the end, rating ourselves is only our theory: our hunch or suspicion of how we’re doing. The perception of those we lead and the state of the company is our reality.


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  • Maurissa says:

    My team has these discussions and feedback points, even sharing them side-by-side with each other with the intent to make our team members better. This type of interaction has brought our team closer together and we know we have a common desire. We are also reading 360 degree leadership and listening to other teamwork CDs. How do you suggest as a middle manager to get leaders above you interested in self-improvement and desire to learn how to be a better leader? Or, is there a reason to want that?

    • Linda Sasser says:

      Stay positive about the process is my first tip! Sometimes it’s difficult for leaders to accept looking a bit deeper at their leader performance. Especially if the company is a traditional environment with heavy duty titles. Because in that world the title dictates the leadership score not the people’s perception.

      Benefits – show your boss the benefits to this process. It sounds like you have done this with your team already. So now take your team’s feedback about you (both good and bad) and show your boss. Let him/her see what you did and how it has helped you. Then ask for his or her feedback on your leadership just as you did your team. This draws him/her into the experience.

      Let your boss know the value it brings you in your development then grin… and ask if he/she would like to go through the process himself.

      Ha – if not, then you’ll just have to back off. Over time, if you are a producer and your team shines others will want to know why and how. You’ll get to explain then. Stay focused on your improvement. Today may just be a season of you influencing through your actions.