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What Flavor is Your Management Tea?

Dan Bobinski
June 26, 2006 -- By Dan Bobinski 

When it comes to coffee or tea, I’m a coffee guy. I’ll occasionally get decadent and apply for a bank loan so I can get what my friends call a Froo-Froo Cappafluffa, a.k.a. Overly-Priced Coffee-Flavored-Milk, but most of the time I’m opting for a plain old cup-o-joe. 
What I’m really trying to say is I’m no expert in tea. I’ll leave that to my wife and the entire population of the United Kingdom. My preferred cup of tea has been described as barbaric by tea-lovers everywhere: Just give me a basic Lipton tea bag.  No flavors necessary. Besides, I only drink tea when I have a cold, and even that’s rare.
But one thing I like about watching people make tea: It’s symbolic. You take some leaves, put them in hot water, and the water changes. Some leaves make the water sweeter, some make it bitter. Sometimes the change is dramatic, sometimes it’s mild.
So my question is “what flavor is your management tea?”  When you find yourself in hot water, what kind of effect do you have on the environment?  Do you become bitter and turn your surroundings bitter as well? Or are you soothing, with a corresponding ripple effect on those around you?  Is the effect mild, or can people tell from far away what results you’re generating?
If you care at all about how deeply your coworkers engage, it behooves you to get feedback on how you handle yourself in a crisis—hot water, so to speak. Over the years, I’ve found that many people have no idea how they’re coming across and what kind of effect they have.
Perhaps the best tool to get this information is a 360 feedback report. Although they’re touted by some and scorned by others, I believe that the usefulness of a 360 feedback is hard to beat—if it’s done well.
For those who’ve not heard about them before, 360 feedback reports gather information from coworkers about a person’s effectiveness. The “360” means a “full circle” view, in that feedback is gathered from all the perspectives around you: Superiors above you, peers alongside you, and those who are “under” you on the corporate ladder. Some versions include the opinions of customers!
The purpose is to get feedback on your strengths and weaknesses—as perceived by others. The assumption is that perception is reality. You may think you’re behaving a certain way, but if everyone around you sees you acting otherwise, you can bet they’re responding to you in an “otherwise” fashion.
Example: You may think you’re an idea-generating catalyst bringing innovation and valuable momentum to a team, while those around you perceive you to be an arrogant, egocentric grandstander who ignores or belittles the input of others.
Upon learning of such perceptions you might realize why nobody offers up their opinion any more. It’s not because they’re lacking ideas or suggestions (as you’ve surmised), but rather they’re tired of being castigated publicly whenever they open their mouth.
Another example may be the person who perceives himself to be a critical thinker, but is perceived by others to be a downer, always pointing out what could go wrong.
Some companies wisely use a 360 approach when collecting information for annual performance reviews. 360’s are also useful when deciding what direction to take for a leadership or management coaching initiative, or for honing the skills of those being groomed for advancement. In fact, 360’s can measure perceptions in many areas—performance, integrity, communication, teamwork, and customer service are just a few.
Because so many varieties of 360’s exist, don’t be hasty in choosing one. Do a little research on what’s available to you and choose carefully.
If I could offer a few other suggestions, I strongly recommend anonymity for all contributors. The more anonymous the input, the more accurate it’s likely to be. Information collection must be well-thought out so the source of “who said what” remains secret.
Second, I recommend the results of a 360 be delivered in private by someone trained to do so. The idea is to create plans for growth, development, and/or improvement in a “safe” environment—not blame, insult, cut down, or even soften or coddle the results. Perceptions, however painful, shouldn’t be glossed over; but they shouldn’t be delivered with callousness either.
Bottom line, the emotionally intelligent thing to do is know and understand your preferences, then adapt as necessary for optimal success. Not everyone likes tea, and not everyone likes coffee. I like my coffee, but I’m not going to force it on everyone. A good manager, like a good host, provides the flavors necessary for people to want to stay around and do their best.

© 2006 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development, Inc. You may freely forward this information providing the text is sent as an integral whole and contact information for the author is included, such as using the text that appears below:
Dan Bobinski is a certified behavioral analyst, the President and CEO of Leadership Development, Inc., and the co-author of Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 [toll free: 888-92-COACH] or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com
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