The Sharpening Stone – The Good, The Bad, and the Boss

Most of us have experienced performance reviews delivered to us by our bosses.  If that was done reasonably well, we walked away with constructive feedback that helped us grow professionally, or at least perform our jobs a little better.

In fact, without performance feedback, it’s pretty hard to improve.

In the book, Primal Leadership, psychologist Daniel Goleman and his colleagues describe a series of experiments that led them to conclude:

First, that people generally overestimate their own abilities.

Second, that CEOs of low-performing companies tend to rate themselves higher in leadership competencies than CEOs from high-performing companies.

And third, the higher leaders rank in an organization, the more they tend to inflate their leadership competencies.  Those at the highest levels have the least accurate view of how they act with others.

So the bad news is, if you’re relatively high on the org chart, you’re probably not as good as you think you are, and you might not be getting any better.

The good news is, you can get that critical information you need in order to improve.

Why not start with the people who report to you?  They’re the ones who see you most in your day-to-day behavior, and experience your decisions directly.

But it can be hazardous for someone to tell you, their boss, what you’re not doing very well.  So you have to make it safe, and actively cultivate “loving critics” from among this group of subordinates.

We’ve developed an upward appraisal tool that can help you structure these discussions.  You can contact us through our website if you’d like to know more about that.

But let’s suppose you want to keep this as simple and informal as possible. Start by pulling aside one of your constituents and ask, “What can I do to be a better leader, or a better boss?”  You will likely get a puzzled look, followed by some benign response like, “It’s all good.  You’re great to work with.”  So be ready to respond to that by saying something like, “It’s good to know that you feel positive about working with me, but I know that like everybody else, I’ve got room to grow. So think a little harder.  I’m sure you’ll come up with something.”

It may take some patience and persistence on your part, but tighten your questions and hang in there through some uncomfortable silences until you get a response.  That conversation just might lead to the most useful performance appraisal you’ve had in a long time.

About the Author: Rob Skacel, Ph.D.

Rob is a licensed psychologist with senior executive experience. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Franklin & Marshall College, and Master’s and Doctoral degrees from Purdue University. Rob began his career in the field of clinical psychology, splitting his time between patient care and management responsibilities. Within a few years, he began the transition to business psychology specialization. He has since held senior leadership positions in sizeable for-profit and non-profit organizations, where his responsibilities focused on performance improvement and organizational development.

Rob founded True Edge Performance Solutions in 2000, and maintained it as a part-time venture for a number of years as he continued to accrue executive experience. By 2006, True Edge had grown to the point where it required Rob’s full-time attention. Over the years, Rob has provided services to dozens of leaders and their organizations, in a variety of industry sectors such as manufacturing, professional services, health care, agribusiness, construction, education, non-profit, and trade associations.

The Sharpening Stone

The Sharpening Stone is a series of short videos from True Edge designed to sharpen leaders and their organizations.

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