Address feedback - perception is reality

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Dear Joan:
At my company we have an extensive succession planning process. As a part of that process we hear feedback from those above us regarding our upward potential. I am a mid-level manager and I would like to move up some day but for right now, I’m happy in my job. I was promoted a few years ago and I still feel I have a lot to learn. 

The question I have for you is about something I have heard from my boss in the succession feedback. Apparently there is a perception among some senior executives that I am “too close to my people.”  

When I pressed for what that meant I was told that sometimes I don’t see my people’s flaws. I view them only through “rose colored glasses.” In other words, I think they are better than others think they are.  

In my own defense, I like to build a strong team and my team is in a role that is under heavy pressure and stress. So, I believe that my job is to protect them a little from the business politics and administration, that only bogs them down and interferes with our results. And our division is getting great results (we’re in sales and service). 

He mentioned a few people who have had some performance slumps and one person who has been with the organization a short while but who has ruffled some feathers. I have defended these individuals because they have great potential. 

My boss said it wasn’t anything career threatening but he wanted to make me aware of it now, so I can work on it before it becomes a more serious issue (especially if I want to move up). What do you think? 

Answer:
I think you should thank your boss for his candid feedback. Whether you agree with it or not, if that is the perception of some of those above you, it must be addressed. In other words, if you disagree with their perceptions, you must prove them wrong with objective

data. If their comments have a grain of truth, you would be wise to take a hard look at what you need to do differently. 

If you believe that you are being judged incorrectly, then your strategy is to clear up their misperceptions. Talk to your manager and find out more details about what he and the senior managers think are your employees’ shortcomings.  

Ask yourself, “What aren’t they seeing that I see?” “What extenuating circumstances are they unaware of?” “What behavior is causing ‘ruffled feathers’ and what can you do to help your employee change that outcome?” 

As you work with those above you, find opportunities to educate them with objective data that they may not be aware of. Their perceptions will only change after they see the whole picture for themselves. Nothing you say will make that happen. In fact, it will only make you look more protective, if you try to defend these employees in the face of those perceptions.  

On the other hand, if the issue is pronounced enough to come up during a succession planning process, it is probably grounded in some real evidence. If more than one person sees it this way, you should do some soul searching. 

Good people managers sometimes have this blind spot. They are such devoted employee developers and teachers --especially for those employees they hire themselves—these managers aren’t always objective about the amount of progress that is being made. They don’t want to give up on a person. Because these managers are such people-builders they see potential everywhere. “I’m working with him on that,” is a typical refrain when senior managers question the person’s abilities. They see their employee’s failure as their own personal failure. 

If you are seen as tolerating mediocre performance, or viewed as a manager who can’t fire someone, you will be a liability to the organization. In spite of your ability to build loyalty and commitment, you won’t be seen as strong management material. The ideal manager develops his or her staff but doesn’t identify so personally with their employees that their vision becomes clouded. 


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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