As A Leader, Your Personality Is Everything (Part Three)

Estimated reading time: 10 mins

Over the last two weeks we’ve been looking at your personality, and why it is important as a Leader. In Part One, we considered why consistent behavior according to your personality is crucial so we can practice strong leadership. In Part Two, we then began to consider how our personality can be measured, and by using a personality test, we can understand our preferences which shape our personality and behaviors – this was an ‘inward looking’ view of ourselves. This week in Part Three we shall be looking at ways we can learn how other people perceive our personality and behaviors, and how these impact them.

Imagine if you thought you were doing a great job, but your colleagues and boss didn’t (and they don’t tell you). How would you feel?

Imagine if you thought you were doing a really bad job, but your colleagues and boss considered you as a high performer (and they don’t tell you). What would you do?

You’d want to know, right?

We all have a perception of ourselves – the way we behave, the way we talk, the way we feel and react. We can all describe ourselves in the way we think other people will see us. You know what, though? Nobody gets it right! I can guarantee you that there won’t a single person alive that sees you in the same way you do (OK, maybe if you’re a twin it might be possible.)

Why do we care about other people’s perception of ourselves? Some of you might not care at all! But I think the reason why most people do care is because we can understand the impact we have on them. This isn’t just about what we have done that effects them, but also what they think we will do, and can do.

Just imagine if your new boss thought you were insensitive to client’s needs, but this perception arose only because of a few unlucky events. Your boss avoids putting you into client-facing situations, even though this is one of your strengths. Wouldn’t you want to know about your boss’s opinion of you? You would, because otherwise you won’t be put into situations that play to your strengths. Understanding what your boss thinks about you and being able to put it right is a good career move.

Imagine again that you don’t think you are insensitive, in fact your dad says you are very caring, but you stop being invited into client-facing situations by sales. Wouldn’t you want to know why? Is it, perhaps, that you’re not as sensitive as you think you are?

The point is that the view we have of ourselves – personality, strengths, weaknesses, the effect we have on others, etc is often out of alignment with the view’s of other people. To know what their views are, we need feedback .

Feedback is the mechanism for learning about ourselves from others. We can learn a lot about our personality from the way other people describe us, quite often things we hadn’t even considered. For example, I had thought I approached people with a non-threatening posture (I am 6’4″ or 193cm, so this is important to me) until a couple of people mentioned that they sometimes felt intimidated by me – I wasn’t even aware of this! So I learned something important from these people I used to rectify my posture to avoid overwhelming people with my height.

Feedback enables us to learn about our personality . If you remember from Part Two last week I shared my personality test results. Don’t forget that the results show how I perceive myself, not others. The results say I prefer introversion. When I last got feedback from my friends and colleagues, what I found out was that my friends thought I was considerably more extrovert, some of my colleagues too, and the rest agreed that I was more introvert. The colleagues who agreed with me were the people I tended to work with less. What this tells me is that I might be behaving inconsistently; more outgoing with people I know well and quite shy with the people I don’t work with much. Before the feedback, I didn’t think I behaved differently at all!

The Halo Effect

This is a term often used to describe when someone can’t put a foot wrong, i.e. they seem to do everything right. This is a perception , not the truth. The perception of the halo effect is created when a person’s behaviors are perceived to be honorable, aligned with company values and delivering value. Unless you receive feedback, you’ve no way of knowing if you’re wearing a halo, or devilish horns. I think it is quite straightforward to build the perception of the halo effect, and it starts with asking for feedback.

Asking someone for feedback is an outward display of respect and shows consideration that you care about, and are interested in, someone’s opinion about your behaviors. It gives someone the opportunity to influence your behavior and attitude towards work, people and the organization. Even ‘poor performers’ can create the halo effect by actively seeking feedback and making visible behavioral adjustments.

Getting Feedback

Imagine you’re told you are quite loud and disruptive in the office for the first time through feedback. You have a choice, 1) Do nothing, and accept that you will continue to disrupt people and any subsequent consequences, or 2) Tone down your voice and allow other people to get on with their work. With the information to hand, you do have the choice. Without the feedback, you have only option 1, so you’ll be upsetting people for sure!

Now feedback isn’t always free-flowing. People frequently keep their opinions about other to themselves, and instead just stew in their own discontentment. It’s also true that good deeds can go unpraised which can mean they won’t be repeated. The point is that we shouldn’t expect feedback to come to us, sometimes we have to ask for it. When did you last ask a colleagues or your boss for their feedback?

Who do you ask?

To answer this question I think it is worth considering the point of feedback again. Remember, feedback is a means of learning about ourselves and our behaviors as others see it. In Part One we looked at the importance of consistency of behavior, so the feedback should also check if we conduct ourselves similarly in a wide variety of situations. Imagine if the people that followed me thought I assertively tackled issues by using my instinct, but my boss expected me to gather data to make the lowest-risk decision. Whichever approach I took, I would be behaving out of character in the eyes of one of those parties which would certainly lead to confusion and potentially loss of trust. I’d like to know what each of these people expected of me before I made a mistake like that.

So best practice is to ask for feedback from people right across our sphere of influence, which is our superiors/leaders (our boss, and their colleagues), our peers and our subordinates/followers. This group of people will provide us with a way of checking for behavioral consistency. This is commonly known as 360 degree feedback , or multi-rater feedback .

Methods of Receiving Feedback

Many organizations nowadays institutionalize feedback using web-based tools and structured forms. These work very well because they enforce consistency in the way the feedback is gathered, i.e. each respondent is given the same questions and their answers are structured in the same way. Most 360 degree feedback tools offer sections that gather the feedback in the following style:

  • Section One: A questionnaire that asks respondents to rate behaviors according to a fixed scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Questionnaires force a very consistent way of gathering opinion, but don’t offer means of adding further detail
  • Section Two: A form which asks respondents to say what they think the person who will receive the feedback should Continue To Do, Stop Doing and Start To Do
  • Section Three: A free-text form which allows the respondent to offer any further feedback that can’t be provided in the above sections

The essence of this method is consistency.

A simpler but less consistent method is discussion – plain discussion! There isn’t a better way of asking for spontaneous or ad-hoc feedback than just asking for it. It’s surprising how few people ask for feedback on their behavior. This method is particularly effective if you have just undergone a major business change or event.

Asking for feedback through discussion is best done one-to-one and in a ‘safe’ environment away from the usual distractions. I’ve seen feedback this way work most effectively when you create the right setting up front by asking the person you’ve approached to give honest feedback without holding back. It is still sensible to take a structured approach to receiving the feedback by thinking about the objective before you begin. Ask yourself what behavior(s) you want to know about, and give examples where you can. Having real examples makes the whole process real and specific – avoid generalizations . If the feedback you receive doesn’t make sense then elaborate the discussion until you discover the crux of the behavior. This applies to feedback that describes a positive outcome as well as negative one. It’s vital that you learn what behaviors are having the impact in discussion.

Whatever method you choose, you must be prepared to hear feedback that you don’t like! It’s crucial you don’t react defensively, or you will destroy what you’re trying to achieve. Feedback is a gift – remember this.

Your Feedback Process

As mentioned earlier, many organizations perform regular programs of feedback. If you’re not sure what your organization does, then contact your manager or Human Resources. Many small organizations are not geared up for this so this might not be available to you from a central resource. However, as a manager or leader, you could still initiate a program of feedback within your department or team.

To help you, I do offer a short course for professionals, managers or leaders to build a program of 360 degree feedback. This short course (3 weeks) shows you by example, by taking you through the process yourself. The course is designed to not only support your own learning and development, but to also ‘train the trainer’, i.e. demonstrate how such a program can be run in your department. This course is available and you can find the details in my ‘Courses & Services ‘ page.

I also run a similar course for freelancers who want to use feedback to hear about their clients’ opinion of the services they provide with the aim to gain satisfied clients , repeat business and referrals . The course shows you how to run a repeatable program of feedback for all your clients now, and in the future. This course has been very successful with the freelancers who have taken it. Mark Wilson , a freelance Solutions Architect in a Financial Services organization, says

Simon, has been a great mentor through this course and really gone the extra mile. Usually when you take a course you go through it and then walk away. I have found that Simon assists more with the post review than expected. I would definitely recommend this course. Anybody can send a few e-mails with good content but the support structure that goes with it and the objective advice it what does it for me.

I’ve helped Mark construct a process of feedback with his clients, analyze the output and then build an action plan to adjust the behaviors he accepts as weaknesses and to build on his strengths.

Next week we will be looking at how you must respond when you’re receiving feedback, and how to construct an action plan off the back of it.

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2 thoughts on “As A Leader, Your Personality Is Everything (Part Three)”

  1. @Simon – in your experience, are IT folks weak/timid in asking for performance feedback? ( A leading qs if ever there was one..!)

    I would imagine the freelancers are more motivated to build up a list of recommendations and feedback to increase the probability of winning referral business.

  2. @Mark – great question! In my experience, IT people don’t ask for feedback as much as other business areas. My conclusion as to why is that technical professionals work with their head more than they do with their heart, so it isn’t a natural tendency. I find that most of the freelancers I work with don’t ask for feedback at all, which is a shame as it is a valuable learning opportunity to improve, what is essentially, their business and the service they provide.

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