Reflections from Middle Management
Managing how others perceive you and ensuring you’ve got a positive brand sucks, but unfortunately, you don’t get the option to act like perception doesn’t exist Last month, we spent some time talking about how others’ perception of you can influence the performance review conversation in the workplace. As promised, I wanted to continue the conversation, but here I want to approach it from the leadership angle instead of focusing on how perception impacts us individually.
In middle management roles, it’s only a matter of time before you will have to sit down with someone you lead and discuss how the rest of your team perceives that individual. These are some of the harder conversations to master because they may not be grounded in fact. You might have heard this person’s name brought up unfavorably in a meeting with senior executives. Or perhaps you’ve noticed how other members of the management team seem to hold a grudge for something this person was involved in a long time ago. Whatever the case, whatever the scenario, your job as a leader is to help your people grow in their own development, and how the people you lead are perceived by others is important to address.
So what type of situations might require you to step in and address? I’ve taken some real-life examples shared by other leaders (including some which I’ve either been on the receiving or delivering end myself) to give you some examples where a perception conversation might be necessary:
- An employee spent a lot of their working day in an office common-space, away from their formal desk/office. Her work was solid, always on-time, and she had the blessing from her own boss to work away from her desk. Nonetheless, other leaders questioned her work ethic and perceived her as being unproductive.
- A senior leader always looked for the agreeable faces in meetings and therefore maintained eye contact only with those people and shied away from others who were less outward with their emotions. It gave the perception that he didn’t value everyone in the room or valued certain people over others.
- Another senior leader built really strong team relationships. Right or wrong, some of those relationships were built over happy hour drinks and social events outside of work. Even though results and morale were at some of their highest levels, a perception existed between some Executives that this leader needed to be more mindful of her presence with various levels of leadership.
Notice anything about all three of those scenarios? None of them are earth-shattering, career-ending missteps. Each one of those examples showcases an employee/leader doing exactly what is expected from him or her – delivering strong results. But it’s how they manage the perceptions they intentionally or unintentionally are creating which might be the key to unlock to door to the next level. So here are some tips to consider when you’re the leader and you need (or think you need) to have a perception conversation:
Assess the Validity or Impact: Essentially, you first need to figure out, “Do I say something or not?” Not every issue needs to be addressed. As I mentioned earlier, perception is an interpretation of a situation – and that means some of the issues which arise won’t warrant a response or action. That’s what you have to decide as a leader:
- “Will this issue get in the way of a promotion for my mentee/leader?”
- “Who is the driving source behind the unfavorable perception and what influence do they have on decisions which could impact this leader?”
I tend to lean towards getting it out in the open so the person can at least be aware, but that’s not always necessary. Use your discretion and trust your gut on whether or not to say something.
Let them Vent
Assuming you choose to share, you’re should expect them to vent frustration. Let them. Let them air it out – and don’t hold grudges if some unflattering things are said in the heat of the moment. This is an important part of the process because if they aren’t allowed to react to the situation – honestly, without retribution – then it’s likely to linger on for longer than it needs to.
Ask Them What They Need from You
After the venting, your role as leader needs to switch to coach and partner. What do they need from you? How can you play a role in addressing the perception with them? Can you hold this person accountable to a different plan of attack or corrective behavior? The key is to let the employee/leader tell you how to be involved. It’s ultimately their issue to address and you shouldn’t be the one dictating how to approach it.
Lastly, your role as leader should also be to make sure they don’t “over-correct.” More often than not these perception issues are not career-ending. However, the natural inclination might be to address the issues head-on and with the full force of their effort. It’s important to remember this employee/leader’s behavior and actions have found them success in the past. Over-correcting could be exactly the WRONG move! Your job should be to help them find balance if their emotions are getting the best of them.
I hope both of these articles help you prepare for some upcoming performance review conversations and how you can influence perception positively for yourself and as a leader. Thanks for reading and we’ll talk again soon!