Knowing Your Impact

February 22, 2011 — Leave A Comment

As leaders go, nobody beats Michael Scott for awkward. In the hit series, The Office, Scott’s utter lack of awareness of the impact he’s having on the people around him–in scene, after scene, after scene–is downright painful to watch. So painful its funny. (…or at least that’s what people tell me. I personally can’t stand it.) So anyway, if you’re a leader, the good news is: You’re no Michael Scott. So, yeah…Yay, you!!

But…here’s the bad news: All comedy is based on truth. We laugh (or in my case, wince) when we watch Michael Scott because we’ve all been there. We all know at least one leader who is pretty clueless about the impact he or she is having on those he or she leads. Only, in real life, it’s not nearly as funny. Fact is, one significant blind spot that holds most leaders back from being as effective as they could be is this: They are not aware of the unintended impact they have on those they lead.

What is the lingering effect that you have on the people you interact with as a leader? When they walk away from a conversation with you, how do they typically feel about it? For example, do they feel heard? Respected? Overwhelmed? Challenged? Encouraged? Shut down? Condescended to? Loved? If a trusted friend were to ask them what it’s like to be in relationship with you, what would they say?

Knowing your relational impact as a leader is a key aspect of self awareness, and without that understanding, your leadership can be weakened or even crippled in ways that leave you feeling genuinely perplexed about it all. One leader I know was perpetually troubled by what he perceived as a stubborn reluctance on the part of his team to communicate with him. They would often hold back vital information regarding projects they were responsible for until just a few days before the deadline, which regularly put him in the difficult position of having to make significant changes to projects at the last minute–a process that was as a costly as it was frustrating for everyone involved. What he didn’t realize was that his frank, direct communication style was having the unintended impact of intimidating just about everyone on his team. His people avoided talking with him because they found the interactions threatening in a way that shut down their own creativity and enjoyment…so they put off engaging with him until they absolutely had to.

Fortunately, there is a fairly simple way to discover the impact you’re having on those you lead. However, it requires both courage and authentic humility:

1. Make a list of five or six people in your relational world that you trust and believe will be honest with you. Some of these should be people you lead, but also include a few people who don’t work with you directly–perhaps a friend or two, or even a spouse.

2. Meet with each person privately and let them know that you are genuinely interested in learning how to be a better leader, and to do that you need to ask them a few questions that you want them to answer as honestly as possible. Get their agreement on this before proceeding.

3. Ask them the following questions, being careful to avoid getting defensive or justifying yourself in any way. Just listen, take it in, and thank them for their honesty.

  • What’s it really like to be in relationship with me?
  • What impact do you notice that I typically have on people that I lead?
  • What negative impact do I have on others that I am typically unaware of?

Remember, it takes humility to do this. People will be able to sense whether you authentically want to hear the truth. And often they will have much more to say about your positive impact on others than they will about the negative. Still, you must choose to be teachable. Whatever comes of those conversations, this much is sure: You will be a better leader.

P.S. For a great book on developing the skill of self awareness, check out Practicing Greatness by Reggie McNeal.

Michael Warden

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