What is the lingering effect that you have on the people you interact with as a leader? When they walk away from a conversation with you, how do they typically feel about it? For example, do they feel heard? Respected? Overwhelmed? Challenged? Encouraged? Shut down? Condescended to? Loved?
Knowing your relational impact as a leader is one aspect of emotional intelligence, and without that understanding, your leadership can be weakened or even crippled in ways that leave you feeling genuinely perplexed about it all. One leader I know was perpetually troubled by what he perceived as a stubborn reluctance on the part of his team to communicate with him. They would often hold back vital information regarding projects they were responsible for until just a few days before the deadline, which regularly put him in the difficult position of having to make significant changes to projects at the last minute--a process that was as a costly as it was frustrating for everyone involved. What he didn't realize was that his frank, direct communication style was having the unintended impact of intimidating just about everyone on his team. His people avoided talking with him because they found the interactions threatening in a way that shut down their own creativity and enjoyment...so they put off engaging with him until they absolutely had to.
Fortunately, there is a fairly simple way to discover the impact you're having on those you lead. However, it requires both courage and authentic humility:
- Make a list of five or six people in your relational world that you trust and believe will be honest with you. Some of these should be people you lead, but also include a few people who don't work with you directly--perhaps a friend or two, or even a spouse.
- Meet with each person privately and let them know that you are genuinely interested in learning how to be a better leader, and to do that you need to ask them a few questions that you want them to answer as honestly as possible. Get their agreement on this before proceeding.
- Ask them the following questions, being careful to avoid getting defensive or justifying yourself in any way. Just listen, take it in, and thank them for their honesty.
- What's it really like to be in relationship with me?
- What impact do you notice that I typically have on people that I lead?
- What negative impact do I have on others that I am typically unaware of?