Saturday, December 5, 2015

Growing Your Self-Awareness

If you want to have more hours in your day, attend a swim meet. They never end! They're even longer if the announcer doesn't know how she is perceived by the spectators, coaches and athletes.

I enjoy following my son around the area and sometimes the country for his swim meets. My preference is to be on deck as an official for the best "seat" in the house. 99% of that is as a volunteer. This particular 3-day Invitational was a college meet, which are notorious for very few officials and an extreme reluctance to have volunteers since the ones who are on deck are paid. That's all another story but tells the reason why i was in the stands.

The announcer became the brunt of some comments by the spectators the deeper we got into the weekend. The perception was: "it's all about her." If there was only wondering during the first day of prelims, there was solid evidence at the start of finals that evening. After her round of announcements and reading the names of the participating teams, she asked everyone to "please stand and remove your caps for the singing of the National Anthem."

Then she began to sing. It was not of an excellent quality. The second night was no better. Same for the third.

It's a good bet that no one will give her another suggestion, such as a vocal major from one of the 10 teams in attendance. She's probably been filling this role for a decade or more. It's hers. And everyone knows it. And no one will make suggestions of another approach for fear of offending - or a potential backlash.

I realize that this is a lot of conjecture. I don't know her nor the exact circumstances. The experience reminded me, however, that getting clear on how I'm perceived by others is an essential part of pursuing excellence. Asking for feedback, honest feedback from trusted friends, and more importantly not becoming defensive when they are honest, is a behavior for leaders to practice. Gaining honest feedback is hard enough, but when you're the leader it can be even more difficult.

I like the suggestions of a couple of articles (How to Get Feedback When You're The Boss - You're Probably Wrong About How Others Really See You) from Harvard Business Review.

I brought a book along to this meet, with time to read between my son's events. I'm reading The Admirals, about the only 4 men to hold the rank of Five-Star Admiral. A story is told from Chester Nimitz' mid-career that illustrates one way to get good feedback, while also providing a coaching moment. A brilliant way to both learn and teach.

"Coming alongside the anchored oiler Pecos in exceptionally blustery winds, Minitz himself took the conn. It semed like a perfect landing until a freak gust sent the Augusta's bow into the lifeboat davits of the Pecos and snagged an anchor just as the lines were being made secure. A quick strain on the number 3 line and a fortuitous shift of wind untangled the mess, but Nimitz quickly sent for the lieutenant who had been supervising the lines.

   "Thompson," Nimitz snapped without his usual calm, "what did I do wrong?"
   E.M. "Tommy" Thompson gulped and then replied, "Well, sir, you were overconfident and misjudged the effect the wind would have on a ship riding lightly on the water."
   "That's right," Nimitz affirmed. "Now, Thompson, what should I have done?"
   "Probably the safe thing to have done, sir, would have been to have gone ahead, drop the starboard anchor, and to have backed down on it."
   "That's right," Nimitz said with a scowl, "and, Thompson, don't you every forget it!" It was no coincidence that Thompson, too, became a rear admiral. He had a great teacher (p. 164)

It's not a perfect example but you can see the point. I would suggest adding a question in such a scenario: "Have you seen this type of thing from me in other situations?"

When we use our own flaws and mistakes as the foundation of a conversation, we are more likely to get the honest feedback we're seeking.

If there's a chance you're singing off key, would you want to know? How will you find out? Do you have a feedback process that helps get the right people in the right seats for the pursuit of excellence?