Examining Your Reputation
I vividly remember the best interview question I've ever been asked. It caught me up short and I've used it several times since then in coaching sessions or other settings. You can get so much from the answer anyone gives to it, and how they give it. It's also an excellent self-reflection question that we should all ask ourselves from time to time
"What would the person you least like working with say about you?"
Whoa right? It took a few moments for me to formulate my answer which went something like "I think he'd say that I'm a tireless hard-charger who never backs down from a challenge but makes sure it's done by the books." That was me putting it nicely truthfully. That particular co-worker and I had a bit of a confrontation barely a week before that interview because while I thought I was doing a good job by keeping the team dedicated to the black-and-white of the task, he thought I was being a rigid immovable obstacle to the progression of the plan. Ouch.
He had a point though and I saw it much more clearly while reading You According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career by Sarah Canaday. Canaday covers many common gaps between how we see ourselves and how others may see us in her book. I'd be rewriting the whole thing if tried to cover them all in a blog post so I thought I'd cover the two that are evident in my interview answer to keep it brief. My tireless, hard-charger side aligns with her description of Dust in My Wind and my doing things by the books sounds a lot like her Safety Patrol description. Let's pick me apart shall we?
Dust in My Wind
"She never paused long enough to recognize that most people weren't capable of performing the same super-human feats of endurance [that she was capable of]" (pg. 67). In the same interview as above, the panel asked me what I thought qualified me for the role I was applying for as an emergency response watch floor officer. I confidently responded "Well I've been trained to think at 500 mph while flying planes so as long as we're still on the ground, I think I'll be able to keep up." Gag right? The panel did have a couple other pilots on it so they didn't see it as ego inflated as the others but woof.
It's true that my training as a pilot did help me a lot but my pit fall was that I had that same expectation of those around me. I particularly had this expectation of my direct reporting personnel. I thought if they were going to be on my team and I'm going to be signing their evaluation they should be keeping up with my pace. As I found out, that was a recipe for burnout and discontent.
"Great leaders know how to reduce their pace to find the team's optimal rate of speed. They can strategically shift their focus outward - away from their own standards of performance - so they can evaluate the needs of their colleagues and, ultimately, create a team with the potential for greater results" (pg. 70).
I also discovered that because I was so focused on my expectation that everyone would keep up with me, I often over looked the great ways others were contributing to the team. Telling people thank you for the efforts and energy they are putting in at every level goes a really long way. This seemingly simple act strengthens relationships, shows people that they are being seen and heard, and reinforces their value to the whole group. "Express appreciation for the contributions of others, and make a deliberate effort to give them credit every chance you get" (pg. 70).
My pilot training also instilled in my a healthy respect for doing things by the book. Sure I had my Maverick moments but those were few and far between compared to the countless times I followed the checklist procedures by the absolute letter. This tendency began to spill over into my everyday life and pretty soon I felt "wired to point out possible risks and hazards" (pg. 98) of any situation and I seemed to "live in a purely black-and-white world" (pg. 98). Great for keeping planes in the air but made me come off like a Negative Nancy in several other settings.
This particular reality gap is what my colleague and I argued over a few days before the interview I mentioned above. We were not planning a flight, in that situation, we were planning a bar-b-que for the office families. There were very few situations in which lives could be at risk at such an event but I made sure to point them all out put measures in place to keep us to exact venue code. This colleague and I had had a few disagreements before and this one could have been avoided if I'd stopped to ask myself do I really believe this is a dangerous decision or do I like the challenge of winning the next battle?" (pg. 107).
I worked hard after that interview to relearn how to resist "the urge to point out obstacles immediately" (pg. 100) and to "force [myself] to look for the positive elements" (pg. 100). The relationship between me and my former colleague was never a friendly one but it did become much more functional the final year we shared office space. Those efforts definitely carried over into my next job, the one I'd interviewed for, and my reputation there matched the reality I was aiming for more closely for sure.
What traits do you have that you consider strengths that others may consider frustrating or sticking points? Have any of the perception gaps Canaday identifies in her book resonated with you? Did your most recent peer evaluation point out some area that you should be working on?
Don't shy away from this constructive criticism or self-evaluation! Embrace it. Only through outside feedback will we ever illuminate areas for improvement. Hopefully you'll work with those who give you the initial feedback long enough to ask them again after you've make some changes to see how your progress is and what you could further refine. That is my challenge to you between now and our next book discussion. Seek constructive criticism and be open to recommended changes. It's the best way to grow.
The next book is a quick, fun read. I'll be dedicating just one post to it because it is so concise. You are sure to enjoy picturing yourself as a charging rhinoceros. Head on over to Amazon, or any other book purchasing place, and pick up a copy of Rhinoceros Success: The secret to charging full speed toward every opportunity by Scott Alexander today and then come on back on November 4th to join the stampeding conversation. Until then, I'd love to hear from you! Tell me what you think about You According to Them by leaving a comment below, emailing me, or reaching out on any of my socials. Happy reading!