(Jackie Robinson. Photo credit: Bob Sandberg/Library of Congress.)
A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives. ― Jackie Robinson
At an internal company awards luncheon, a CEO new to his position sat next to someone whom he knew had won an award. In his typical jovial style, he teased her about having her Oscar awards speech ready – even though it was policy not to have any speeches. When her name was announced as winner, she got up to accept the award, and gave an impromptu speech.
When he recounted the story to me, it was in this moment that he realized the unintended impact of a few careless words. Admittedly, the impact was benign but it was his wake up call to be more conscious and intentional of how he showed up as a leader.
His story is not unusual. As we progress up in the company, our titles change, our offices get larger, and our personal assistants more intimidating, but we still feel the same person. Experiences like that of the CEO can remind us that there is sometimes dissonance between our internal persona and our external title.
At another organization, the divisional head prided himself on his open door policy, yet was taken aback by the feedback – facilitated by a third party – from his senior management team. The team wanted clarity of the future vision, transparency over decision-making, and more collaboration between teams. These were all great requests but it was the first time he’d heard of them.
“Why didn’t they just tell me that?” he lamented to me. Great question – and the answers lie in his unintended impact. He’d committed a number of sins in the eyes of his team like repeatedly cancelling the team meeting at short notice, and not responding to emails. They read into that that they didn’t matter so why bother telling him things that mattered. His open-door policy was useless if he didn’t have the trust of his team.
Here are five ways to strengthen your blind spots around unintended impact:
- Find yourself a truth-sayer. There is often one person in your circle that will speak the truth – however brutal. These people say the things that others fear to say. It’s not necessarily that they are more courageous. Rather they see risk in different areas to you and me. They have a high bar on a view of what offends others. These are the people who cut to the chase in protracted and heated meetings, and have the courage to say what no-one else is willing to say. Find one of these people and enroll them as your wing-man.
- Learn to read what’s not being said. Develop your skill to look beyond words, and to read and intuit what is not being said. There is always a lot of information available to use beyond the words being used in a conversation.
- Show more of yourself to your colleagues. When your staff and colleagues get to know who you are, what formed you as an individual and what maters to you, behavior that appears incongruent to your values is more likely to be questioned.
- Develop an awareness of your game face. We think we need to be upbeat and have a game face in the office. Staff and colleagues see through the mismatch between your game face and any internal struggle you have. Your mood will drive the organization. It requires a reflective practice to be aware of your moods and how they are impact those around you.
- Be willing to take responsibility for your unintended impact. Integrity is one of the key requirement staff have of their leaders, and this value is honoured in the moment where we accept our failings and apologize for our unintended impact.
As leaders, we are seen and viewed by what we say, what we do and where we place our attention. At times, we are very intentional in this. And at other times, we get careless, or forget we are always in the spotlight. Even an awareness of this as a potential leadership pitfall is a step in the right direction for your organization.