• Paul Rutherford


Updated: Jun 10

Donald recently landed a new job.

It's at the top of a huge organization, where he'll be responsible for strategy, operations and finance. At home and abroad.

There’s a lot at stake: Big opportunities to succeed, big opportunities to fail.

As sometimes happens, at the start of the hiring process he wasn't the most obvious candidate.

The interviewing was both long and unusual.

Long, because he had to meet with lots of committees and give lots and lots of presentations.

Unusual, because the decision wasn't in the hands of the Board or the management team. It was being decided by a huge number of employee-shareholders, who pooled their votes at local branches.

That's how Donald ended up with the most support.

He's really excited by the job. He's taking the helm at an organization with brand awareness higher than Apple, Coca Cola and Disney.

Donald is known to particularly like that part of the job. Some people are not sure about his grasp of the rest.

One who expressed doubts in the run up to the decision was T.V. Meedja. Didn't have many actual votes - and those were clustered in a just a couple of branches – but did have a voice that was heard across the organization.

It counted as ‘influence’.

Imagine T.V. Meedja's shock was when Donald got the job.

"How did that happen? After everything we said about Donald? After everything he had said during his presentations."

On Monday this week the first thing Donald did - weeks before he officially takes over from the outgoing boss - was to call a meeting with T.V. Meedja.

What a relief: T.V had given Donald lots of feedback for a long time, and wanted to see how that would affect his approach to the job going forward. And find out how they’d work together.

Donald had other plans.

For all the aspects to the job he still needs to learn, he does know how to play the T.V. game better than T.V. itself.

The rule he insisted was 'off-the-record'. It was private; T.V. couldn't tell people what was being said in the meeting.

Which gave Donald the chance to get something off his chest. After months of feedback, it was his turn to give it to them. And like him, they hadn’t asked for it:

He called them dishonest.

He called them deceitful.

He called them liars.

He called out organizations.

He called out individuals.

Rather than a two-way conversation, it was (later described as) "a ******* firing squad."

And because Donald knows how to play T.V.’s game, it wasn't a surprise that it got leaked soon after. Which left T.V. Meedja unable to comment – locked into its off-the-record agreement.

The employee-shareholders who appointed Donald really enjoyed the story. T.V. Meedja had been giving feedback to a lot of people for a long time, so it was good to see them on the receiving end.

Which is a truth for anyone in any role at any level in any organization: Feedback can be a seed for growth or a stick with which to beat someone.

Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingram called this out in the 1950s.

UCLA psychologists Luft and Harrington pointed out that in a relationship, both parties know things and don't know things, about themselves and the other person.

Presented in a quadrant model (below) called the Johari window, a combination of first names, which they thought sounded rather exotic.

This is how it works…

You and I have just met, introduced by a shared contact. Both of us know / display very little at the beginning, and the shared common ground (top left) is called the 'Arena', a public space. You know, and I know that you know, and that's a comfortable start.

In fact, we might stay in that space forever. We both know what we need to know so that we get our jobs done, and neither of us has any interest deepening the relationship.

The downside is that a 'signal of silence' will probably restrict you from offering me observations, and vice versa – depending of the function, status and duration of our individual roles.

Efficient, but will ultimately restrict either and/or both of us from growing.

Look at the top-right quadrant: the Blind Spot. There’s probably an aspect of my persona or behaviour that you can see, but I can't. It might have a negative impact; it may be something positive that is taken for granted. I just don't know

You might want to share that with me; give me the feedback. But from a very small Arena, you’ll need to pick your moment. And ensure that I'm ready to receive it.

Bottom left is the Facade (aka the hidden space) - aspects about me that I know and you don't. It's not obvious nor visible nor active.

Luft and Ingram picked up that opening one's own Facade - willing to share something that the other person (or people) doesn't know - is a signal that you're beginning to trust them, and hope that they'll return the exchange.

I'm willing to get down my guard, to be open to what you have to say. Including feedback.

(The fourth space - an aspect that neither of us knows- is labelled ‘Unknown’. More the territory of therapy, so we'll park that for now. Suffice to say that if you uncover something about yourself, it enriches the options you have in sharing with others.)

Which brings us to the feedback question at the heart of the Johari Window: should you wait to hear a request, or offer it spontaneously? Some people eat and drink feedback morning, noon and night; others can become very defensive, even if it’s delivered with positive intent.

It's really a choice which depends on the nature of the relationship.

Compare Donald’s Monday meeting with a Tuesday event. On Monday, it looked like payback time to a source he didn’t rate.

On Tuesday, he met N.Y Thymes, another public source of doubt about him, but was a very different tone and relationship.

N.Y. Thymes has a voice that carries particular weight with a particular local branch in the organization that Donald is going to lead. Indeed, it’s somewhere where Donald has a track-record, and a particular reputation. It's his home.

And unlike their T.V counterparts, Thymes declined to meet 'off-the-record'.

Donald told Thymes he appreciated 'the meeting and I have great respect for (you). Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.'

He still said that he had been particularly unfairly treated by N.Y. Thymes. Then described it as an 'object of fascination and frustration'.

Possibly frustration that Thymes wouldn’t change the rules, and fascination that they would rather miss the meeting than go off-the-record.

On Monday, he didn’t want feedback - either because he's trying to hide his Blind Spots, or because he wants complete control of the scope of the Arena.

Trying to keep it steady and on-top-of-it all the time may be comfortable, but ultimately it leads to stagnation. Growth is found in feedback - from people you rate and trust, whether they agree with you or not.

So when Donald received feedback from Thymes – the questions that were asked, the repeated probing, a transcription of the conversation - it carried gravitas and worth.

Towards the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Donald said:

"To me, it would be a great achievement if I could come back here in a year or two, and have a lot of folks here say 'You've done a great job.'"

Until then Donald, you'd better learn to value feedback - sought or proffered, from those who don't rate you and those who disagree with you.

Because in your new role, you're going to get a lot of it.

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#impact #people #trust #leading

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