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  • Writer's pictureNeil Keeler

Doing the right thing or winning?

Recently had an interesting 360 feedback session with a really engaging and highly impactful leader, who has kindly consented to sharing the insights we got from four little words of feedback.

As we went through their (extremely positive) report, focused on their engaging leadership behaviours, we came finally to the open text/comments section.

Often it's the section my client's immediately head for, it seeks two or three things from those giving feedback, that:

  • ...the leader was effective at.

  • ...they might wish to improve in, or develop more.

Dependant upon the skill and tact that these comments are shared with, this feedback can be very highly impactful. In this case it proved to be especially so.

Someone had commented that this leader might want to develop 'a better poker face'.

I could see that short statement resonating quite strongly with this leader.

They'd talked earlier of 'wearing their heart on their sleeve' and being quite an open book to others (with some excellent impact too from doing exactly that) but this four word feedback, seemed to have a disproportionate impact upon them.

I could sense this singular sentence, one of 30+ other statements from over a dozen people, at the end of a very detailed report was now growing before my eyes.

They were nodding and reflecting on it, repeating back that 'their openess was something others had commented on', 'this made a lot of sense', 'especially as you progressed in seniority' etc.

After a pause I asked them, could I share an observation and present a challenge?

They generously agreed...

"Well, poker is a competitive game where one person seeks to ultimately win & profit, by beating all others. It's a game which values, very highly, the ability to deceptively influence others into quitting, on the basis that what they perceive you have, is stronger than what they have. Winning, game playing and deception."

"Is that really the leader you wish to be?"

The challenge had delivered a very different insight into the possible beliefs that perhaps underpinned, the well intended feedback.

They held the tension for a while, between those contesting beliefs, clearly weighing them up, seeing how it fitted, or not.

Deciding, ultimately that it didn't fit for them we came back to their other feedback.

Their existing leadership behaviours were already having an extremely effective impact, by showing their true 'face' to those they lead.

They ultimately recognised the feedback, at it's face value.

When seeking feedback, reflect carefully on it. It's foundations and context, explore the (possible) underpinning beliefs of those who gift it to us. What we gift others of course says much about what we perceive as of value.

I'd also suggest a coach or mentor can really help in that, but then I would!

Even well intentioned comments (which I am sure this was intended to be) can be built upon beliefs and values that conflict with what academic research shows actually engages people.

A poker faced, win at all cost type leadership approach is perhaps, felt by some, as being a useful facet of really effective leadership. Covering up all vulnerability and your emotions, to me anyway, possibly hides your very humanity as a leader. That seems rather sad.

Of course there are acceptable degrees of what we share as leaders, our faces can deliver the most immediate of feedback and that needs some consideration.

How leaders react shows everyone what is important to them. Don't be too afraid to let your face do the talking I'd say.

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Welcome to my blog

Hope you will find something here to really get you thinking. Topics will be on any of my passions: Organisational Development, Leadership, Employee Engagement, Culture Change, Organisational Improvement and Transformation are the key themes.  

If you have a topic or suggestion for a blog, or maybe you'd like to do a guest spot on here (!) drop me a line. I'd also like to share some of my experiences in moving from 32 years of working in the public sector to starting my own business!

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