The hard truth by 'Z': How am I doin’?

I'd make a great tyrant, but no one would like me

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

I took a personality test a few months ago. It proclaimed me a “driver,” a my-way-or-the-highway type who’s hard to convince because he always thinks he’s right.

I’m not surprised. I didn’t get this far kowtowing to others. I’ve known lots of people who can’t state their case with clarity, with guts, with a “shut up and listen to me” kind of force. Call me pigheaded but proud.

I consider myself the kind of boss I’d want: fair but demanding. Still, the test results got me thinking. Do my managers see me as a tough but decent leader or as a nasty, thin-skinned tyrant?

I asked five direct-reports for feedback on my management style, from how I motivate to whether I listen to opposing views. With prodding, each one opened up. I learned some disturbing things: I treat them fine for the most part, but they’ve seen me act mean to lower-level employees. I resist saying “I’m wrong” or “I’m sorry” to pretty much everyone. And I yell.

The sun shines through

After that I wasn’t so proud of my “driver” status. The CEO ego trip had gone too far. I was using my power to act out in ways that sometimes made people miserable. I could get away with it. So I did it.

While I still scream sometimes, I’m trying to apologize more and admit when I’m wrong. And I’m more sensitive about others’ feelings, including the folks down the line who don’t know me well.

I’m not really a changed man. I’m just treating my personality as a work in progress. That in itself is a breakthrough for someone who’s not exactly ... reflective.

Input from all sides

The jury’s still out, so I’m not telling you all this because I’m a success story. But that personality test provoked me to talk to my top lieutenants and get an honest appraisal. While it was uncomfortable, like the MRI test I got last year, it was worth it.

I don’t care what your job is. You should get regular feedback, too: From your employees. From your peers. From your customers. Ask them to tell you how you communicate and how you can improve your performance. Listen and don’t argue.

Some consultants gather so-called 360-degree feedback. From my experience, that approach just formalizes what is better left as a simple, informal process of asking people their opinions. But if you prefer the formality, great. Just make sure to check up on yourself. Ask the people who work with you what they think of you. Go ahead. I did. Now it’s your turn.

 “Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 25-year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $100 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.

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