Objective self-assessment

Perspective - sThe value of a new view…

A couple of years ago I created a survey for a group of business CEOs I was collectively coaching. The aim of the survey was to help them assess their own leadership teams in advance of one of our group calls, wherein I went through the results, offered thoughts and frameworks relevant to each of them, and facilitated a really productive discussion.

Try the survey anonymously if you like. You don’t have to submit your answers, just look at your scores and make your own judgement. It’s here if you want to have a go.

The one thing I would say though, is that whatever score you give yourself, consider the possibility that the reality is likely to be a full point lower on each question.

At least, that’s my experience, having subsequently spent time in almost half of the businesses that were in the group.

This isn’t a business leader thing, nor do I think it’s an ego thing. Many of the charity leaders I’ve worked with have given, quite unconsciously and unintentionally, an impression of greater alignment and cohesion within their organisations than sometimes turns out to be the case when we start working together.

It’s entirely normal – it would probably be odd if it wasn’t the case.

For one thing, of course we’re going to present our people in a light which is at the favourable end of the judgement spectrum – they are, after all, a reflection on us.

In the same way as we might spend a bit more time on hair and makeup if we know we’re going to be  interviewed about our cause; or breathe in slightly and turn our best side toward the camera when asked to pose for a photo. After a while, we don’t even notice we’re doing it.

But there is another, more important thing at work here as well. And that’s our ability to tune out the “constants” in our environment – the background noises that are always there but that we no longer bother to hear; the wallpaper we no longer notice because we walk past it every day.

The mediocrities and modest dysfunctions of our teams and organisations are no different. And yet they are the background environment that subtly shapes our expectations, that steadily comes to define our cultural standards as to what is fine, and not fine.

There’s a reason we feel that, for example, a cricket club assessing itself on its lack of racism, a business on its own compliance with financial law, a hotel on its own accessibility for people with disabilities, might all be more objectively carried out by someone from outside. And it’s a good reason.

I’m often told, even in engagements that have nothing to do with organisational development, that my observations and feedback on team dynamics are incredibly helpful. And a lot of that is simply because I’m new enough to notice.

To notice whether people compete or accommodate, speak out or sit tight, whether debates need facilitation or adjudication, and whether the solutions that emerge are collaborative or compromised.

Whether team discussions really are team discussions, or a series of bilateral conversations; whether they build on each other’s points, or offer an unrelated variety of views; whether it’s a game of “guess what the CEO thinks”, or of “my departmental agenda”.

And ultimately, how teams behave when conversations get uncomfortable, and why.

With so many challenges on the leadership plate, it’s easy to forget that you’re only as good as your team, that an organisation is only as good as its people, and that once you stop asking yourself these questions and addressing what you see, everything else you want to do starts getting harder.

And it’s easy to forget how easy it is for us all to tune out some of these things after a while.

Where might you have started to tune out things that you should be noticing? And what value might you, and they, get from an objective view?

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