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How others perceive you can affect your leadership reputation

You may believe your leadership reputation among your team is high, but a 360 degree review could reveal some blind spots, writes Joel Garfinkle.

5 min read


leadership reputation

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Sometimes when people talk about leadership potential, it doesn’t seem very easy to pin down the specific behaviors a leader needs. What makes a great leader? What qualities do they have? What does it look like when they have it, and what does it look like when they don’t? 

Joel Garfinkle

When conducting 360-degree interviews for a recent executive coaching client, I kept running into supportive but dismayed individuals above and below him, saying he lacked executive presence. As much as they wanted him to succeed, they didn’t see him as an effective leader. Here is some of Dan’s feedback and how his approach was getting in the way of his success.

Too laid back 
“I’m an easy-going kind of guy. I make space for others in the room.”  “He’s too laid back. It’s like he doesn’t really care about the things that we’re discussing, what’s at stake.”

While it’s true that senior leaders are often looking for talent that will help build a more collaborative organization, someone still needs to step forward, take charge and make a decision after all the voices have been heard. Dan’s easy-going style might be appreciated by just one team member, but to successfully lead, he needs to temper that laid-back attitude by being more assertive. Those above and below him are looking for a more commanding presence — someone to gather the opinions but then be bold and confidently take the team in a decisive direction. 

Often changing his opinions 
“I’m flexible and willing to hear all the points of view when it comes to finding a solution.”  “He needs to stick to what he believes. He changes his stance too easily for both his bosses and his subordinates.” 

Dan was surprised and frustrated to hear that he was perceived as too timid and willing to bow to others’ opinions. He saw himself as a good listener and an open-minded team player. Dan was missing that element of executive presence that his employees and his executive were eager to see — command. Inviting input from others at the table is valuable, but we worked together for Dan to understand that the next step was to form and defend his reasoning. It’s possible to be both collaborative and commanding. People want to be heard, but then they want a decisive leader. We worked on a plan for Dan to keep his style but layer on a confident and reassuring level of authority. 

Isn’t willing to have the tough conversation 
“I’m well-liked and friendly with everyone on my team.”  “He needs to have those tough conversations and hold people accountable when they aren’t doing their job.”

Dan wanted to foster an atmosphere with a lot of team camaraderie. He preferred to get along with everyone. We all want others to like us; it’s not unusual to hesitate when having hard conversations, much less when letting someone go when it’s not working out. The problem is that both his team and his senior leadership had noticed its drag on morale and productivity. Dan and I talked at length about how people actually have more respect for those who are firm but fair, especially when poor performance is affecting others. We worked on ways that Dan could see that having those difficult conversations was the kindest thing to do for the individual, the team and the company. He needed to begin holding people accountable — and hold himself responsible for managing the team even through the rough patches.

The 360-degree review was an eye-opening experience for Dan, and it showed him how others perceived his actions. I stressed to him that some of his greatest traits don’t need to be put aside to be successful. People enjoy working with him for his even temper and easy-going and friendly manner. He had built a reputation as a great team player; now it’s time to build on that and add the executive presence expected of a great leader. If any of this feedback resonates with you, it’s your turn to plan on how you can adjust your approach and achieve success.


Joel Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 executive coaches in the U.S. and provides executive presence coaching utilizing his 3×3 Executive Presence Model. He is the author of 11 books, including “Executive Presence: Step Into Your Power, Convey Confidence, & Lead With Conviction.” Subscribe to his Fulfillment at Work Newsletter or view his video library of over 200+ easily actionable two-minute video clips by subscribing to his YouTube Channel.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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