William James, the influential late-19th Century American philosopher and psychologist, wrote, “When two people meet there are really six people present. There is each person as they see themselves, each person as the other person sees them, and each person as they really are.” How do you see yourself as a leader? And even more important, how do the people that you lead see you?
Realize that every action you take and every interaction you have leaves a lasting effect on others. You may have the best of intentions, but if your impact isn’t aligned with the good intention, then you may not be the most effective leader that you could be. Why? Because in the end, what matters is not who you think you are, but the experience that other people have with you.
Now, before you say, “I don’t care what other people think of me,” realize that you don’t need to care what they think. However, you must care about the effect you have on others, on your organization, and your industry. Your impact is lasting. What mark do you want to leave in the world? In order to ensure you have a positive effect and are viewed as a leader others want to follow, take the following steps.
Detail the Effect You Want
Most leaders have never detailed their personal creed, but doing so can be incredibly powerful. Therefore, get clear about who you think you are. Who are you, and what do you stand for? What do you value? What is your personal creed or stance in the roles that are most important to you in your life? How do you want to be known in your company and industry?
Once you have answered those questions, ask the most important question of all: “How do these things I have just detailed show up when I’m frustrated, or when things aren’t going well? Who am I then?” It’s easy to be all of those lovely things when everything is going well. But what about when things aren’t going well?
How do you want to appear to other people during the hard times? How do you want to be known when things are tough? How do you want people to experience you in the midst of adversity? Most leaders lose credibility when things are bad because they haven’t thought about who they are in those situations, and about the kind of impact they’ll have on others around them.
Find out How Others View Your Impact
There are two ways to get information about your impact: You can ask for feedback indirectly or directly. An example of an indirect approach is doing an online and anonymous survey of your team (e.g., using a tool like Survey Monkey.) While this approach simple, the results are not always specific.
An example of a direct approach is to talk with someone you trust, face-to-face, and ask specific questions so you can get critical insights.
The secret to making direct questions work is to phrase them properly. If you ask someone, “Can you give me feedback on my leadership style?” you won’t get the information you need. That’s a difficult question for most people to answer because it’s not focused, and no one wants to hurt another person’s feelings.
Additionally, if your interlocutor is not prepared for the question, they may feel they’re being put on the spot. Therefore, develop questions that have more focus, like, “During today’s meeting, I think I may have sounded defensive when I said that the idea would never work. How did it sound tor you? What was your experience of being in that meeting?”
Notice that you’re not asking for an evaluation. You’re pointing out a specific incident or behavior and asking the person about their personal experience during that moment—the impact you had. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that the person is going to tell you the truth, but it does create a condition where the respondent is more likely to be prepared to answer honestly.
Change Your Impact, Not Your Self
If the results of the feedback you receive don’t align with your personal perceptions of yourself, it’s time to make some changes—not to you, but to your impact. First, get curious about the mismatch, not furious about the information. A good question to ask yourself is, “Under what conditions might a person experience me this way?” This does not indicate that you agree with the feedback, but it validates the response as a legitimate perception. Because here’s the truth: You may be a motivating, empowering, and uplifting kind of leader, but under certain conditions, even the most esteemed person can seem harsh, cold, and defensive. So, you must be mindful of the kinds of conditions that may thwart your success. In other words, know your blind spots so you can shed some light on them.
With this new knowledge, you can make conscientious efforts to alter the impact you have on other people. If taking one approach isn’t getting you the results you want, what other approach can you try?
No matter what approach you try you remain the same person, but one who is doing certain things in a different way to have a more positive impact. As long as the new approach you try supports your values and what you identify as important, then you’re acting with integrity and in alignment with your goals.
There’s no avoiding it: All leaders leave a lasting impact. What is yours? Is it the legacy you want? When you can align who you think you are with how others perceive you, you’ll be the kind of leader that people are drawn to, and your mark on the world will be a positive one.
Alesia Latson is the founder of Latson Leadership Group, a consulting firm specializing in management and leadership development. She has over 20 years of experience helping organizations and leaders expand their capacity to produce results while enhancing employee engagement. Contact her at [email protected]