Managing Your Personal Impact …One Boss’s Story

Once upon a time, there was a Boss who was very sure of himself.  He was strong and competent.  He had built some admirable relationships with his peers and was well liked by his customers and the community at large.  But he was also puzzled.

He was puzzled because it seemed, to him anyway, that every time he walked into the same room as his employees, the place went from being lively with conversation to something that was subdued and controlled.  And, when he attended meetings with his team and a question came up, they all looked at him before even attempting to address it.  Similarly, when they talked about problems, the team members always looked his way before, or while, giving their opinions.

On the one hand the Boss kind of liked it.  It made him feel, well, in control and more than a little powerful.  But, on the other hand, he found it irritating and unproductive.  Surely these people were fully capable of drawing conclusions and deciding on courses of action without waiting for his blessing all the time.   Did he have to do everything? What was wrong with them?

Then one day, a Brave Soul approached him and said, “You know, you can be pretty intimidating sometimes”

The Boss looked at Brave Soul with eyes so hard and blue they seemed cold enough to freeze mercury.

He said, “What?  What do you mean?  All I did was walk into the room and sit down for heaven sakes!”

Slightly shaken but undaunted, Brave Soul went on.  “Well” she said, “It’s not just that you walked into the room but how you did it”

“Okay”, he said, “Now that really is ridiculous.  How could that possibly make me intimidating?  I’m interested in what people have to say.  I want some healthy discussion and debate about the issues we face.  I need them to be fully present when we are together so that we can work together and get things done.  Don’t they get that?”

Brave soul replied,  “I’m pretty sure that’s what they want too but the affect your body language and behaviour has on the team makes it difficult for them to participate”

Unconvinced but intrigued now, the Boss said, “Okay then, tell me more”

“Well, when you came into the room this morning, you didn’t acknowledge anyone.  You probably had a lot on your mind and so you were frowning too.  You walked straight to your chair at the head of the table and sat down without looking at anyone. You looked at your watch instead. You opened your book; peered over your glasses at the assembled group and said, ‘Okay, let’s get to it.  We have a lot to do and, I’ve got another meeting to go to after this’

“After that, I imagine it seemed to the team that the goal of the meeting changed from one that involved sharing ideas and making productive decisions to coming up with enough “right answers”  to keep you from getting too impatient and ensuring that you got away in time to get to your next meeting”

“ But that’s not what I intended at all!” said the Boss. “I didn’t realize I could have such an effect on people. ”

Brave Soul smiled and said, “I don’t think any of us knows how we affect others unless we take some time to think about it and ask.  Sometimes how we are can get in the way of things, that’s all.  Just thought you should know.”

As Brave Soul walked away, the Boss began to make a mental note.  He had learned something today, about himself.  He didn’t like it but, if what Brave Soul had said were true, it would certainly explain the behaviour he saw and felt in others whenever he was within earshot of them.

So what could he do differently to become more aware of his impact on others without pretending to be someone other than himself?  Here’s what he came up with:

1. I will make an effort to become aware of the clues that people are sending me when we are in each other’s company.

It seems reasonable that if people can pick up and act on clues from my body language and behaviour, I can pick up clues about how I affect them by paying better attention when we are together

2. When in doubt about my impact on others, I will ask someone I trust to tell me the truth.

I get that I will not always be able to see myself as others see me.  So, I guess I will ask someone like Brave Soul to watch me from time to time and let me know how I’m doing.

3. I will be conscious of my moods and do my best to manage them in a way that does not negatively affect those around me.

I realize that when I am deep in thought, or worried about something it isn’t difficult to convey it, through my body language, to those around me. So, either I must explain myself or I must discipline myself to convey a more open posture.

Not bad, for a start.  What would you add to the Boss’s list?

As a leader, have you had an experience like this?  What was it like?  What did you do about it?

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10 Comments

Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leading Teams, Self Knowledge

10 responses to “Managing Your Personal Impact …One Boss’s Story

  1. Very nice story, Gwyn. And so realistically true. In addition to observing others, leaders need to become adept at observing themselves in “real time”.

    One little trick I often ask of my clients after they’ve received behavioral feedback is to split themselves in two (figuratively) so they are the “observer” and the “actor”. By the very nature of their increased awareness of how others percieve their behavior, they may be ready to do this complex activity.

    In follow up meetings I can then ask about specific situations – if they are talking about a meeting they led, then I can ask, “what did you observe about yourself?” “What behaviors did you perform well? What do you need to change?”. Its a nice adjunct to observing others’ reactions to their behavior.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      I really like the notion of encouraging the boss to be both an “actor” and an “observer”. I expect that at some point those two roles, once having had an opportunity to be scrutinized singly would then begin to operate more naturally together but with a greater sense of personal awareness. Cool. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing the benefit of your experience Mary Jo!

  2. Ginny

    I have sat in many meetings just like you described, and felt that same uncomfortable feelings. Although I was not the Brave Soul, I did learn from Boss, and when I took the information to my team, I was aware of my body language and smiled!
    Great story, I really enjoyed it.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Ginny,

      You are very astute. When you see someone behaving in a certain way you take how that makes you feel and make sure that you do not fall into the same trap with those who look to you for leadership.
      You clearly illustrate that learning comes from negative experiences as well as positive ones. The key is to look for it!

      Thanks for coming by!

  3. Hi Gywn,

    Thanks for the great post and story! The tips provided for the boss are spot on. I might also add that it’s important to ask questions, engage outside of meetings with the team, focus on providing positive reinforcement. The last one is key in my mind. Even if someone’s contribution isn’t right on target providing positive reinforcement for their thoughts and insights will encourage others to speak up.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Kelly

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Kelly,

      You have added a great one. If the Boss modifies his behaviour only when there are formal reasons to meet with his team, he will have difficulty building the kind of rapport he needs to a) gain credibility and b) sustain his new awareness and resulting behaviour. So, engaging people on a more informal basis will help them achieve the level of confidence they all need to make their best contribution and get things done.

      Thanks for that point!

  4. Gwyn – You have such a gentle way of using story to make a point that might otherwise be difficult to hear. How lucky your clients are to have you in their corner. How lucky I am to have you as a twitter-friend.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Anne, that’s a lovely thing to say. Thank you. Twitter has opened up a brand new door for me. How fortunate I am to find *you* over this new threshold 🙂

  5. Gwyn – lots of good things here! Story telling here to illustrate a point. Excellent! But it’s true none of us really knows how we are perceived until we open ourselves to feedback. Very often the smallest thing ,which can be easily changed, can be significant. Great reminders to us all.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Dorothy, thank you! And you are quite right. It doesn’t have to be a big thing to have a huge impact.

      Self-awareness is a very useful tool yes? To your point, one of the ways to get there is to receive information about ourselves willingly and with an open mind.

      Some of us are good at it. I venture to say, more of us (including me) are still working on it 🙂

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