One piece of the executive coaching program I deliver to senior leaders involves conducting feedback interviews with superiors, peers and direct reports. Everything is anonymous – and as a trained journalist I tend to induce candid remarks that serve as valuable data during the coaching engagement. After speaking to 10-12 people, I transcribe comments then sit with a client to review others’ perceptions one by one.
Before these debriefing sessions, I give clients a ‘what to expect when you receive feedback’ document to help them prepare for hearing views about their performance and style. The range of emotional reactions is described as the SARAH Cycle: Surprise, Annoyance, Resistance, Acceptance, Hope. Much like the five stages of grief (DABDA) are non-linear, clients flow back and forth among SARAH before becoming open to change.
“I didn’t realize…” is an oft-heard response during a debriefing. When we finish, I tell a client to put the report away for a week and let some time pass. That allows the emotional response to dissipate and places a client in a much better mindset to work on changing what she desires. Interestingly, about half the people – and I’ve presented at least 50 of these over the years – tell me during our next session they read everything again that night. Then they showed the report to their significant other. Then they kicked the dog. (Just kidding about one of those.)
Yet, with all the angst that comes with having me ask, “What do you think about _____?” clients discover this is one of most important steps in growing into a stronger leader. If you’re looking to build on your strengths and improve areas where you’re challenged, have someone ask about you.
When you live in Texas and see news about snowstorms affecting other parts of the country, you think, “Glad that’s not us.” Until, of course, when the Super Bowl decides to come to DFW. Watching ESPN the past few days, folks across America could have been convinced the Lone Star State is frozen tundra during February. Even here in Houston – 270 miles to the south – they’re predicting several inches of snow over the next 24 hours.
It’s amazing how easily perceptions are embedded deeply in folk’s minds. In my coaching work with executives, I’ll interview a dozen people the client feels know him or her best, then share their quotes without attribution. Inevitably I’ll hear from the client, “That comment about me being condescending refers to one thing that happened a couple of years ago.” Yet there it is, a big enough issue to a team member that he felt the need to tell me about it during our 15-minute conversation.
While a single comment may or may not be relevant to a leader’s long-term success, understanding that supervisors, peers and direct reports have long memories is important. That quip you blurt out in a meeting that makes light of someone’s slip-up – the one everybody laughs at and you think is completely harmless – may have a lasting impact on your relationship with the object of your humor.
The snow in DFW will be forgotten once the NFL leaves town and temperatures rise; perceptions others hold of you aren’t so easily changed. So if your relationship with someone seems to be on ice, ask her what you did. If she tells you, apologize. Chances are it’s not too late to repair the misstep you don’t remember and warm up the chill in the air.
Here’s the eighth most important lesson I learned during 2010:
Service Check – One of my clients received payment with an accompanying letter that expressed how upset the customer was about the unusually poor service on that order. My client immediately wrote back to apologize, included the check, and ended his note with, “Send us a new one for the amount you think we deserve.” The customer took him up on it and deducted 20 percent. Do you stand behind your offerings that strongly?
While facilitating a client’s recent executive leadership retreat, one of the attendees asked me: “So how do you stay on top of your priorities and get things done?” Many in the room expressed a similar interest in this topic, and they agreed to start 30 minutes early the next morning to create some extra time for me to share these techniques:
Make a list and check it often – Each Sunday night or first thing Monday morning I rewrite a one-page tracking sheet of everything that’s a major ‘Rock’ priority. This paper sits on the left-hand corner of my desk for the rest of the week, and it’s my way to keep focused on the big picture items that otherwise might be forgotten during the hours of a crowded day. This means the ‘not urgent and important’ quadrant that Covey identified never strays too far out of my mind.
Don’t let e-mail control your life – Once you open your In Box in the morning, you’re no longer in control of your day. So, I spend an hour working on other things before checking e-mail and diving into the fires that come with being a leader. (Note: read my post titled “Setting Priorities” on July 15th for more on this including my “Dr Pepper Approach.”)
Prioritize your piles – My goal is to start and end each day with a clean desk, and I’m probably successful 75 percent of the time. This means staying organized and being efficient. I have two types of current files: ‘clients’ that exist in the desk drawer to my right and ‘events’ that rest on the credenza to my left. I pull out client files the morning of their coaching sessions and place them in order by appointment time. The event files are clear project folders that I implement for all the other things we’re working on in our business. Each day I prioritize these from top to bottom, so I’m always focusing on the most important project first.
In addition to these, I utilize my calendar to block Genius Time for such things as writing this blog or reaching out to prospects. I also prioritize my workday by sequencing ‘these are the things I absolutely have to get done before I go home.’ One mental approach that works for me is to treat every day like it’s the day before I leave on vacation. I find it’s much easier to complete tasks and hit deadlines that way.
Recently, a client said he wants to start a blog… yet he has no idea where to begin when it comes to creating content. “You’re a writer, I’m not,” he said. “I’m worried I won’t be able to come up with any ideas. Help me.”
That’s a quandary many folks face when they try to develop thought leadership material on a consistent basis. Since this is my first blog posting in three weeks, you might think I suffer from a similar challenge; however, the reality is I took a vacation, traveled out of town to work with a client’s executive leadership team and stepped back into my former life to produce a series of videos for a client. It’s actually been finding the time to write, not a lack of inspiration, that’s disrupted my plan.
So here’s the approach I recommended to my client to help him get over that ‘writer’s block’ mental hump and, hopefully, allow him to share wonderful ideas with his desired audience. First, keep your eyes open for insights that appear before you. These may come from reading an article, having a discussion with a client or friend, or reveal themselves in a late night dream. The key is to connect the dots with a “that’s something I would like to write about” realization.
Second, keep an ongoing list of these ideas near your keyboard. Then when you’re ready to write, you won’t have to sit down and stare at the screen hoping some idea pops into your head. Third, and this is a new awareness I’m testing today, block time to write four or more entries at once. Then you simply have to schedule them to post at regular intervals. That’s going to be my way of preventing long interludes between musings.
Finally, and this is the most important lesson on writing I learned – and it came in the fourth year of creating my monthly E-Newsletter – never worry about what your readers think. If it’s well thought out, true to what you believe and comes from your heart, then your part is complete. Allow your viewpoint to resonate with those who are open to receiving it.