How Defining Three Words Others Use To Describe You Can Change Your Leadership Style

In her 2012 TED talk, Rachel Botsman, best known for her work as a global thought leader on collaboration and human interaction, discusses how our reputation is one of our most prized possessions. She asks a simple question, What three words describe your reputation?

This got me thinking. If I were to ask my colleagues what three words they would use to describe me, what would they say? While I am sure some people would seize the opportunity to crack a joke or take a jab, there would be thoughtful and honest replies. These responses would be critical in helping me not only reflect on my current practices, but allow me to begin the journey of improving my leadership practice and developing the characteristics that would help me better serve the needs of the staff.

So, here is the plan. When I return to work on Monday, January 4, 2016, my first email will be to the entire staff. This is what I intend to ask: If you had to describe the way I lead to someone who has never met me, what three words would you use? I intend to use a Google form to keep this anonymous, and leave it open for the week.

At the end of the week, I will categorize the responses and look for recurring themes. After analyzing the information, I will have to decide where I need to go from there.

As an educational leader, I place a high value on my relationships with stakeholders. So, with the new year about to crack from its proverbial egg, I though this would be a great time to begin this journey.

I know the three words I would like to hear from my colleagues, and it would be the words that I would use to describe myself as a leader: trustworthy, empathetic, and creative. But, I am going to listen and stay open minded through this process. Hopefully, I will find out something new about myself.

I challenge you to use this approach in any way you see fit. Maybe with students, friends, family, or colleagues. If you do decide to do this, I would love to hear your results. Regardless of the road you choose, it is about the journey. And if we play our cards right, we can make 2016 a journey worth talking about.

2 thoughts on “How Defining Three Words Others Use To Describe You Can Change Your Leadership Style

  1. Wow, Dave. This is an awesome idea! This is a terrific opportunity to tune into your staff in way that perhaps hasn’t been approached before. In interviews, I’ve asked potential hires to tell me the three words that students would use to describe them and three words that colleagues would use to describe them. I love that you are asking your staff in order to shape your goals for the year. One question, how will you use the feedback words that are outliers?

    • Thanks, Jennifer. As you know, there is as much value in the outliers as there is in the rest of the data. I plan to look for similarities, and see if they connect somehow to my base data. If not, I will categorize them separately, still work on them, and see if they become recurring when I do a follow-up. Asking potential hires to describe themselves in three words is a great way to see if a candidate is self aware. Also, It is a good tactic to ask your candidate’s references as well. Looking forward to a great year with you and the Compelled Tribe!

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