Coaching Leadership

DEALING WITHAN UNFAIR REPUTATION

How do you deal with under-valued skills, or an unfair or unjustified reputation?

Outline:

  1. Perception is never completely objective
  2. Feedback is important
  3. Bad feedback is sometimes correct
  4. How to deal with an unjustified reputation

No immaculate perception:

How others perceive you is not the final truth of who you are. Perception does not equal reality. Sometimes people are mistaken in assessing your skills. Sometimes they don’t see all of your strengths. Sometimes they under-estimate your potential. These misjudgements negatively impact your productivity and upward mobility.

On the other hand, there is no such thing as immaculate self-perception either. How we see ourselves is filled with wishful thinking, unjustified doubts and worries, gullibility, false memories, outdated baggage, misinterpretations of causality, etc.

Validation is crucial:

Feedback is the ultimate reality check. We need an outward focus and regular contact with the external world—to our employees, colleagues, customers, suppliers, etc. Listening is non-negotiable—and not just listening for what we want to hear, but listening to what they want to say.

We need feedback from others, along with regular analysis of our impact on the world (our results), in order to:

  1. validate and update our self-perceptions,
  2. stay connected to the real world, which enhances adaptability & flexibility, and
  3. maintain our relevance, i.e., meaningful, needed, timely value added

This applies to both organizations as a whole and to individuals. The more your employees know about your stakeholder’s changing needs, the more open they will be to adapting to new realities. Exposure to the outside (the world outside of the team) has a significant impact on a team’s relevance, speed, flexibility, and sustainability, i.e., the capacity for renewal and long term, sustainable relevance and success.

Bad feedback is sometimes correct:

When others point out a blind spot, a real deficit in your skill set, you might choose to:

  1. improve that skill (fill that gap),
  2. compensate for that weakness with other skills, or
  3. surround yourself with people who excel in areas you do not—and build extremely strong working relationships with those people.

When your reputation is unjustified:

What about when your reputation is unjustified; when perceptions of you are inaccurate and unfair?

Well it’s a big problem and you need to take action. If you are not recognized for legitimately having a particular skill, it will be far less likely that you will be:

  • asked for input when that issue arises
  • invited to those meetings (where that skill is needed)
  • considered for promotions for positions in which that strength is required

People will treat you in a way that is consistent with their perception of you. Their perception of you is their reality, and they will make decisions on the basis of what they take to be true, i.e., on the basis of the world as they see it.

If you are not recognized for having a certain skill or strength, you will not be engaged to use that skill nearly as often. Skills that are not used tend to wither and die an untimely death. Use it or lose it. Or to say this more positively: you need to use your skills to keep them sharp and up to date.

So what can you do if your skills are unrecognized or under-valued? You can’t run around bragging about how good you are at this skill, and complaining about how everyone is underrating you. This will make you look immature, insecure, needy, or arrogant, and obviously close doors for you.

This is what you can do:

  1. First, identify gaps you may have here and fill those gaps—there may be some truth in the negative feedback
  2. Catalogue and assess your strengths in this area
  3. Try to assess why & how others might not be seeing your skills in this area
  4. Make a list of how, where, and when you could and should be using those skills (identify opportunities to use them). In other words, map out how your skills can be deployed more visibly, more often, more appropriately (on more important and visible projects)

Example: If you have a reputation for being a lousy team player (e.g., get low ratings on team play in your 360 review), get out there and start being a better team player. Pick and choose your spots, of course. You have to do more & better teamwork where more & better teamwork is most required, where it will have the biggest impact on team and organizational success. And you may already have the skills you need to do this. It is rarely about changing who you are; it is most often about deploying or re-deploying skills you already have—and doing so in the right places and for the right reasons. If it looks fake or forced, people will assume you have a hidden agenda, and your efforts will backfire (you will damage your reputation rather than repairing it). With a huge practice like teamwork, of course, there are always new things to learn—ways to broaden and deepen our practice.

It is generally better to earn respect for your skills with actions rather than words. Nevertheless, all professionals have to do a bit of branding around their own unique value added.

Just keep in mind this basic rule of branding: “Your marketing must be aligned with your capabilities and actions.” And perhaps this basic rule of existentialism: “Don’t spend too much time fiddling with your brand—get out there and do something memorable”—or as my mother used to say: “Go outside and play.”

Concluding thoughts: 

You don’t know everything and never will. Anyone at any time—even the most naïve novice or outsider—could tell you something you didn’t know, or see something you didn’t notice. Conclusion: seek out feedback; always be open to feedback; and think about the feedback before you respond.

Proactively look for places to use and develop your biggest strengths.

Finally, build strong working relationships so that the people around you will tell you when you are doing a poor job, help you when you need it, and generously watch your back—which they don’t have to do. This you have to earn.

 

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