Similar to communicating assertively, you have the right to show your character and integrity. There are times where you can’t—and should not—accept what is going on around you. You may not always get your way, but you will know in your heart and your head that you did the right thing. If you are anything like me, you have the pull of guilt during situations in which you’ve said to yourself, “I should have done that differently.”
One of those guilty moments that I have carried with me for years is a performance appraisal conversation I had with one of my employees. She always had been bright and creative and exhibited great people skills in my eyes. She was likable, but was often seen as too soft and lacking the ability to drive performance. Many of her past managers carried this perception and managed her by providing feedback to be more direct and have more forceful conversations with her subordinates.
After some of my own observations, and a significant amount of time together using open-ended questions to bring out her strengths and opportunities, we both came to a mutual agreement that there wasn’t a need to drive people harder. What she needed to do was understand the reporting and analytics of the business better in order to better target performance discussions with her people. This “aha” breakthrough moment was important to building our relationship as manager and employer. We both felt good over the outcome of our intense conversations and started to see improvement.
At performance review time, my scores for her were lowered by upper management. One senior leader had clung to the older perception that she needed to have more forceful conversations to drive performance. I “tried” to persuade the senior manager to increase the scores back to where they had been. Looking back on my argument, it was more emotion-based and lacked enough substance to make a difference.
The conversation to pass on the lowered score to my employee was extremely difficult, to say the least. The reason for the difficulty was my problem. First, I had not properly prepared her for the discussion, because we both felt like we were on the same page with our assessment of her performance. Second, I was telling someone else’s story. I tried to communicate the corporate direction, but did not believe it myself; and she knew it. I did not want to come right out and say to her, I scored you higher and I disagree with my manager. The conversation was a mess. As I have pondered this conversation in my head many times over the years, I’ve realized that I had facts and figures to show her team’s improvement. Not only did I have her team’s results, I had action plans that she and I were working on that clearly identified her specific opportunity. My argument to increase her scores was glossed over with too much generalization and did not give me the facts to clearly make my points.
She was obviously upset. I found out later that she seriously considered leaving the company. Who could blame her? Do you want to work for a company that does not judge you on your true merits? During the conversation, she maintained more maturity and composure than I would have expected of anyone in that circumstance.
Although she constantly reminds me years later of that conversation, it is more jovial because she has seen my genuine learning and belief that she was better than she was scored. I learned to manage others differently based on that conversation, and I saw in her a confidence that she could prove people, like the senior leader, wrong. It showed me her strength—a strength I needed personally. Our personal relationship grew over the years and we became close. We have bounced ideas off of each other and became informal mentors as our professional paths grew apart.
She took the high road. I now make sure that I do as well. I have a card she sent to me a couple of years later. It appeared out of the blue. It was a simple hello card. She wrote in it that she wanted to thank me for taking the time to teach her about leadership, integrity, and attitude. She mentioned in the note that she appreciated the encouragement and challenge to grow. She even added, “For kicking me when I needed it.” I wish I had beaten her to the punch. I should have thanked her for her leadership in a time when she was a subordinate, for her integrity when she knew I was having conflicting thoughts, and for her positive attitude during a trying time. She “kick” started me into understanding how to act in a tough corporate environment. When there are times I feel the pull to go back to old habits, I just turn around and re-read the card. I have done this dozen of times to put myself back on track.
In an interesting twist, the senior manager who did not believe in her at the time brought her back to his line of business several years later. He clearly saw her leadership abilities by then. He showed his ability to be open to admitting he was wrong so many years before, and he needed someone who showed heart and character. She had always been willing to learn and adapt. He finally saw that and was able to utilize her maturity to assist in leading other less experienced managers.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood
See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com. Book, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only) purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com