Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, someone told me that the three words I wanted people to use to describe me were the three words I should use to describe myself.

Somehow, as if by Jedi Mind Trick, people would begin to use those words about me.

If I called myself a train wreck, other people would start to refer to me that way, even when not in my presence.

If I told people that I was compassionate, people would start to show others that I was compassionate.

Since then, several authors have written about this phenomenon, enough that it’s worth a try if you haven’t yet.

I’ll often ask them to write down the three words that they would want people to use when describing them.  This exercise, in and of itself is valuable, as it acts as a point of reference for every behavior after that.

Whether you lead a staff meeting, are having a difficult conversation, attending happy hour, show up with your three little words.

Every once and while one of the leaders we work with either wants or needs some feedback about how they are showing up.

I’ve since used the three-word trick, with a twist, to give leaders an instant snapshot of what their teams think of them.  After asking the leader to identify the three words, I’ll ask their team to do the same thing.  What three words would they use to describe their leader?

The exercise can be made more formal using an online survey, or simply by asking them to write them anonymously on an index card.

What would your people say about you?

In all the times that I have used the exercise, I’ve never, not once had there be a direct match.  I’ve had one word show up, occasionally two appear across the results, but never have all three words appeared in the feedback from the team.

Much to the initial dismay, (and later awakening) of the leader, there are often significant discrepancies in the words people chose.

A leader will select “supportive, ” and their team responds with “micro-manager.”  Leaders say “consistent,” and the team says “arrogant.”  The leaders want people to say they are “fair,” but the team comes up with “jerk.”

Our perceptions construct reality, and so often there is a difference between intent and impact.  The question for you as a leader is threefold:

  1. Have you given thought to your three words?
  2. Do you know what words people would use to describe you?
  3. Do you know how to manage the discrepancy, and close the gap?

Interested to know more?  Need help identifying and closing the gap?  Check out our “Brining Your “A” Game to Critical REALationships” course and coaching opportunities.  Our team is excited to help you close the gap.

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