Meet Harry. He’s A Jerk.
A few years ago, I was working with Harry, a sales manager at a global tech company. Harry was unbeatable: he pushed more product than anyone in the region, won all the awards, and got selected by Corporate for advancement programs. Clients loved him. Yet he found his input in strategic meetings was constantly brushed aside. Worse yet, he was twice overlooked for a promotion.
As I often do in my coaching, I started out by conducting a series of anonymous interviews with his coworkers to uncover how he was perceived. The results were a bucket of cold water for Harry.
It turns out his peers resented him. They thought he was boastful and arrogant, and that his successes (whose targets had been set by Corporate, mind you) were obstacles to the proper functioning of their own areas. A few of them said they loved Harry as a friend, but hated working with him. His boss felt that, as things stood, Harry seemed unable to engage and inspire his peers were he to be promoted as their leader.
Harry and I worked over a few sessions to devise a plan to reverse how others perceived him. This involved a shift in his political mindset, and a lot of managing upwards so he could influence the process issues that were hindering others’ progress. It was painstaking work that often times felt like disarming a bomb: one wrong move and everything could blow up in his face. He had to fill in the gaps for qualities his peers felt were missing, such as collaboration and leadership. He did this in everything he said, and in every one of his gestures. Soon, rumours of “The New Harry” began to do the rounds, and his colleagues lowered their weapons. Because of this, business began to flow more smoothly. Within a year and a half, Harry was promoted to Regional Director.
What It Boils Down To
Harry had been struggling with an issue all of us face every day: the glory and the demise of how others perceive you. In a nutshell: if you are seen as driven, people will react differently to anything you do or say – ANYTHING – than if you are seen as self-serving. The same goes for reliable versus boring, adventurous versus reckless, detail-oriented versus micromanaging. What others say about who you are and everything you do will either open doors for you, or become obstacles in your career.
The good news is that, once you understand how others perceive you, you can begin to manage this so that conflict can be dissolved, your ideas can be better assimilated, and business can move forward.
- Start by assessing what qualities people use to describe you. Are you “Mary who speaks three languages,” or “Joe, the most organised guy on the floor?” What could you find out if you googled yourself?
- Define what you’re about. Fair warning: this is simpler said than done. I always spend a few sessions helping my clients pinpoint what success looks like for them. Not to their parents, their colleagues, or a post they came across on their timelines.
- Figure out who are the players who can help you reach your short and long-term goals. Focus on them first.
- Own your style. Lots and lots and lots of people have skillsets similar to yours. Get clarity on what sets you apart from others so that you become top of mind. Not only will this make you more memorable, it will be energising instead of exhausting. Epic win!