I was talking with a journalist from Men's Health today about how bosses can become more aware of how they act and are seen by the people they lead, and how so many bosses (like most human-beings) can be clueless of how they come across to others. This reminded of a method I used some years back with one boss that proved pretty effective for helping him come to grips with his overbearing and "all transmission, no reception" style; here is how it is described in Good Boss, Bad Boss:
A few years ago, I did a workshop with a management team that was suffering from “group dynamics problems.” In particular, team members felt their boss, a senior vice-president, was overbearing, listened poorly, and routinely “ran over” others. The VP denied all this and called his people “thin-skinned wimps.”
I asked the team – the boss and five direct reports -- to do a variation of an exercise I’ve used in the classroom for years. They spent about 20 minutes brainstorming ideas about products their business might bring to market; they then spent 10 minutes narrowing their choices to just three: The most feasible, wildest, and most likely to fail. But as the group brainstormed and made these decisions, I didn’t pay attention to the content of their ideas. Instead, I worked with a couple others from the company to make rough counts of the number of comments made by each member, the number of times each interrupted other members, and the number of times each was interrupted. During this short exercise, the VP made about 65% of the comments, interrupted others at least 20 times, and was never interrupted once. I then had the VP leave the room after the exercise and asked his five underlings to estimate the results; their recollections were quite accurate, especially about their boss’s stifling actions. When we brought the VP back in, he recalled making about 25% of the comments, interrupting others two or three times, and being interrupted three or four times. When we gave the boss the results, and told him that his direct reports made far more accurate estimates, he was flabbergasted and a bit pissed-off at everyone in the room.
As this VP discovered, being a boss is much like being a high status primate in any group: The creatures beneath you in the pecking order watch every move you make – and so they know a lot more about you than you know about them.
My colleague Huggy Rao has a related test he uses to determine if a boss is leading in ways that enables him or her to stay in tune with others. In addition to how much the boss talks, Huggy counts the proportion of statements the boss makes versus the number of questions asked. "Transmit only bosses" make lots of statements and assertions and ask few questions.
What do you think of these assessment methods? What other methods have you used to determine how self-aware and sensitive you are other bosses are -- and to makes things better?