As the adage goes, without knowing where we’re going it’s pretty hard to get there because lots of roads look good. Similarly, without specific input about how others perceive us, it’s tough to do the hard work of fine-tuning our executive presence and managing our reputation.
At the beginning of a coaching engagement with a new leader, I often conduct a verbal 360 — meaning I gather information, confidentially, from the leader’s colleagues, manager, and direct reports, about how that leader is perceived in his or her organization. I also review all existing feedback data such as annual reviews and even self-assessments and then marry that information with what I’ve heard from others.
However, before I share the information with the leaders, I spend time with them defining how they want to be perceived and what they want to be known for. This requires a lot of vulnerability — they need to be honest about their strengths (and not down-play them) as well as weaknesses (and not mask them). Once we have that clear picture, I provide the leader with the feedback I’ve collected and we begin the hard work of closing any gaps from where he or she currently is (perception) to where he or she wants to be (reputation). It’s important to note here that if you’re not working with a coach, you can gather this information for yourself, and use it in the same way to create your plan.
In fact, in the Leading Women in Associations: A Leadership Development Program for Fine-Tuning Leadership Skills and Professional Presence (a 12-week course for middle managers and high-potential individual contributors in associations and nonprofits), we spend the first session defining “who we are” and how we want to be perceived. The program participants leave that session tasked with gathering information about how they are currently perceived so they can create specific development steps for moving forward.
To gather the information the rising leaders select between four-to-six people who know them and their work, and whom they can trust to provide honest feedback. In asking for their participation, the rising leaders need to stress that they are gathering this information for their own professional development. They ask three simple yet powerful questions:
- How am I perceived by others in this organization?
- What’s the one thing I could (or should) do more of that would have a major impact on my success and how I’m perceived?
- What’s the one thing I could (or should) do less of that would have a major impact on my success and how I’m perceived?
The feedback conversation shouldn’t last more than about 10 minutes and is best done in-person, but can be done by phone if necessary. The only other questions asked are for clarity — no defending what’s been offered as feedback — and the brief feedback conversation should always end with a sincere “thank you.”
Once the feedback is collected and compiled, the hard work for creating the plan for closing any gaps and getting from how you are currently perceived to where you want your reputation to be can begin!
If you’re an association leader and ready to enhance your leadership skills and executive presence, and your association is prepared to support you in your journey, consider submitting an application to Leading Women.