Are you the Devil wearing Prada?
What are you known for? Whether you like it or not you’ve got a bit of a reputation.
Now if you’re a leader this really matters. It matters what people think when you walk into the room – because it’s either ‘Great to see you...’ or ‘Oh god, what now…’.
So unless you’re going for the style of Miranda Priestly from Devil Wears Prada, it might be time to reflect on what people think and do some conscious planning to change perceptions.
Feedback is gift
Feedback is of course a gift. But most people will shy away from offering up really bold feedback to keep the status quo – especially if you’re the big boss. It’s up to you to seek it out and ask the right questions.
I’ve advised Execs to check in with a trusted adviser for some bold feedback, as well as spotting the clues for themselves:
What three words would your boss say about you?
What about your direct reports?
How are you viewed by your peers?
Who are you mentoring? Who’s your mentor?
Who do you admire and listen to in your company? Who listens to you?
What happens when you join a meeting unexpectedly? Or visit a new team?
Do you know what people are saying about you when you are not in the room? What would you like them to say?
Think about someone who hasn’t spent time with you. What do you think they would they say?
How warm are people with you?
These questions can help you to understand your reputation and decide if you need to do anything.
Get out there and see people
One way to move the dial on your reputation is to get out there through informal visits and MBWA (management by walking about).
If people only see you through carefully choreographed communication activities, they might struggle to connect with you.
The challenge is also that you’re short of time. Have your own playbook ready for store or team visits so that you use your time wisely and have goals, focus and intent.
Have a clear purpose – your big aim should be to increase trust and confidence and build rapport with people. Decide what you want to learn and identify your goal – is it helping people to see how their work is valuable and connects to the strategy? Or finding out the issues for customers?
Make time - make sure you’re not just spending a few minutes – it’ll feel like you’re checking off your list and not really connecting. Make it part of your engagement plan.
Do your homework - find out as much as you can about the people you’re visiting. What’s on their minds, what matters to them, their personas and what their day to day life is like.
Play to your style - the trick is to make it natural and plan how to use your own style. If it feels forced, then it will do more harm than good.
Plan your conversations – have one or two clear messages to chat about and plenty of great questions that will make sure you don’t end up giving a speech.
If you’re ‘the big boss’ it can be intimidating for people to meet you. They might be trying to second guess what you really want or what they think you want to hear. Start with why you’re talking to them. That might sound strange, but it avoids them guessing what you’re really after. ‘I’ve popped in to say hello and find out how everyone’s doing’.
Share something - be prepared to share something about yourself to build rapport and trust. Chat about what you’ve been working on – people will be interested.
Celebrate what’s going well -notice something the team has done and congratulate them.
Be curious - ask people to show you something. Listen to a customer call.
Ask questions people will enjoy answering. Practice active listening. Talk about what’s on their minds.
What’s happening today / this week?
What’s going well? Any wins (big or small) this week?
What’s the best thing that happened this week?
What challenges are you facing?
How are we doing? Are we doing the best things for customers?
What can I do to help? What do you need?
Questions are a great way to find out what you can do to improve things for customers and employees. A great tactic is to give permission to make suggestions by asking them for advice.
What are we doing wrong?
What questions should I be asking myself about what it’s like for customers?
What questions should I be asking the Exec team about what it’s like to work here?
What’s on people’s minds right now?
What one thing could we fix?
Connect people - chat about another part of the business, give them insight into what’s happening elsewhere. Think about someone in another team they could talk to – suggest they have a chat.
Building your reputation does take time – but the rewards are clear. If people like and trust the Executives they work for they’ll be more connected to the business, connected to success and determined to be part of it.
If you need help with your Exec Voice get in touch about our programme and toolkit.