From time to time I conduct staff audits to determine the health of the staff and leadership of an organization. Some years ago a board hired me to figure out why the staff was experiencing conflict and a low level of morale. One of the findings was that the perceptions of the senior leader's management were fairly bad. They liked the individual personally but his leadership left a lot to be desired and caused a lot of issues.
When I shared this feedback with the senior leader, he said, "You won't tell the staff what you found will you?" After a moment to collect my astonishment I said, "Where do you think I got the information?" He then said, "What they said is not true of me." My response was, "It may well be that their perceptions are wrong but it is their reality, it is a common reality among the staff and if you are going to change their perceptions you really need to modify your leadership practices."
The board had done this leader a great favor in conducting staff interviews as he found out what most leaders never do - how they are perceived by those who work for them. Often such feedback comes as a surprise to us because we don't see ourselves the way others see us. At times, people attribute poor motives to us that we know not to be true. At other times staff is not aware of circumstances that lead us to certain decisions. But, perceptions - right or wrong - are the reality of how others see us and our leadership. So we are left with two versions of our leadership: What we believe it to be and what others perceive it to be. And sometimes these are worlds apart from one another.
Wise leaders want to know what the perceptions of their staff are. They want to know what they don't know. This requires them to find a few trusted individuals who are willing to share with them how they come across along with the positives and negatives of their leadership style - from a staff perspective.
But remember: No one will tell you these things unless you directly ask and provide a safe environment for them to share their perspectives. Here are some of the kinds of questions we can ask those who work for us.
- Are there things I do that you wish I would do differently?
- If you could change one thing about my leadership style, what would it be?
- What are the strongest leadership qualities you believe that I have and what are the weakest?
- Is there anything I do that irritates you? Or that you feel is not respectful?