Don’t be an Ostrich: Ask ‘How Am I Really Doing’?

"I Know this problem is going to go away - yeh - just keep the head down"

“I Know this problem is going to go away – yeh – just keep the head down”

Sometimes managers, despite their best efforts, seem to be blocked from making progress. They work long hours and deliver projects on time/budget. But somehow the Golden Ticket to the Executive Club is not forthcoming. And the reason is…they … don’t know what the reason is. In coaching sessions, mid-level managers show me copies of solid performance appraisals. They relate positive ‘pat on the back’ conversations with the CEO or Board Members – but somehow they never seem to make the cut. The Glass Ceiling (which applies to both men and women) acts as an invisible barrier to progress. The Question: Is there some way to find out what’s really holding you back? Would it be possible to find a pair of ‘X-Ray Spectacles’ to help you see what’s happening? Well, it turns out that this is available….

Self Deception: Many of us, whether we admit it or not, see ourselves in a slightly more positive light than others see us. Assuming that the people we work with are objective, they see our good points but they also detect flaws in the diamond. Asking the question – How am I really doing? – to bosses, peers and subordinates – is an antidote to the problem of self-deception. Understanding exactly how you are seen in the organisation is, arguably, the key to career success. There are a number of reasons why it’s a good idea to ask ‘How am I really doing? (a very different question from ‘how am I doing’, often a thinly-disguised code for ‘tell me all the things that you like about me and where I’m doing great’).

Staff Love It: They may be a little shocked when you ask, even suspicious. One manager related an interesting story. After asking the question, an employee looked sceptically at him, then looked all around the room, and finally said, “Are we on Candid Camera?” Whatever the initial reaction, employees love it when they’re asked to support their boss with this question (assuming that they believe the question is sincere).

Gets Information: Managers are typically insulated from real feedback i.e. people don’t tell them how they are doing. Even where formal systems of performance management are in place, they fear that this will potentially open up a minefield. So, a lot of senior managers steer a middle course and avoid anything which is ‘sensitive’. In online 3600 surveys, respondents score everything as ‘3’ (out of 5) taking the middle ground. They avoid pointed (potentially useful) feedback that might identify them. Just asking the question doesn’t necessarily mean your boss will open up and provide candid feedback. But if you set the tone right and do a good job of listening to the responses, you’ll hear things you’ve never heard before. About how you are seen and what you could do to become more productive. When you ask a number of people who know you well, common themes start to emerge. You can almost feel that glass starting to splinter.

Sometimes Painful: Sometimes employee’s poor work performance is related to your performance as a manager. For example, if you are losing employees respect because you won’t confront an obvious problem that’s making their lives miserable, it’ll affect motivation. Or, perhaps employees resent you because you’re always pointing out mistakes (without balancing this by telling them what they’re doing right). The trick is to find out what you’re doing that’s ‘irritating’ staff, and then correct it.

Assuming you’ve the guts to do this, it can be a hugely beneficial exercise. It’s not for everyone and not for all situations. But it can work, really well in some cases. Some managers stick their head in the sand. They believe that all problems are temporary and will go away if ignored for long enough. Or they ‘outsource’ the blame – if only I had a better PA, Finance Manager (or whatever). Don’t be an Ostrich. While the process of discovering a bit more about yourself can be painful, it’s normally a growing pain, a path that leads to a better version of yourself. Isn’t that what we are all chasing?


PS: Lighter Note: An elderly married couple, childhood sweethearts who’d settled in their old neighborhood, were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. They walked down the street to their old school. There, they held hands as they found the old desk they’d shared and where he’d carved, “I love you, Sally.” On their way back home, an armored car drives by and a bag of money falls out practically at their feet. Sally quickly picks it up, but they don’t know what to do with it so they take it home.

There, she counts the money, and it’s $50,000. The husband says, “We’ve got to give it back.”

She says, “Finders keepers” puts the money back in the bag and hides it in their attic.

The next day, two Detectives are going door-to-door in the neighborhood looking for the money. They say, “Pardon me, but did either of you find any money that fell out of an armored car yesterday?”

She says, “No.”

The husband says, “She’s lying. She hid it up in the attic.”

She says, “Don’t believe him, he’s becoming senile.”

But the agents sit the man down and begin to question him. One says, “Tell us the story from the beginning.”

The old man says, “Well, when Sally and I were walking home from school yesterday…”

The Detective looks at his partner and says, “Let’s get out of here.”

Time for another one? (watch out, it’s a bit non-PC). 

Two guys talking.  One says: “How’s it going”.

His buddy: “Not great. I wasn’t going to tell you but I had a bit of bad news earlier this week. The Big C”.

 “Jesus, Cancer. That’s brutal”. 

His friend replies: “No, not Cancer. Dyslexia”

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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