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People Are Talking

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It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak, and another to hear.
Henry David Thoreau

People like to talk. We talk to people and about people. We talk about things and events. We know that people talk about us. Do you, or should you, care about what people are saying? There is a school of thought that says "what other people think about you is none of your business." I've never been completely sure if I agree. Curious, isn't it? After all, if we don't know what people truly think of us, how do we gauge our impact?

Some of my greatest lessons have come from feedback. Hearing what people think about me and understanding how my words and actions are interpreted has been startling at times. Sometimes the perceptions that people have of me are wrong, but more often, hearing feedback on my words and behaviors has been an extraordinary gift allowing me to learn and make necessary changes. I know that my influence is significant; I know the impact that I can have as a leader. I love setting a strong, positive example and inspiring others to do the same. After all, each individual has room to grow.

One thing I've learned about feedback is that it doesn't do any good if it isn't shared. Giving direct feedback takes a level of courage as many people either refuse to accept it or don't know how to do so. We all have varying levels of ego and can tell ourselves all sorts of stories to protect our sometimes fragile sense of self-worth. The strongest people I know have a healthy self-awareness as well as an understanding of how they impact others. Combine that with a sense of humility and a desire for continuous learning and growth, and you've got yourself an individual who knows that his or her true measure lies somewhere between what their harshest critic and their strongest advocate sees in them.

In my organization, we've spent a great deal of time and effort to encourage people to talk in positive and constructive ways. This has become the foundation of a culture in which we have improved communication, support, and accountability. Just a few short years ago, people were talking, but the talk had gone 'underground' and it was mostly frustrated, confused, and angry. Complaining about people was the norm. The energy that could have been directed at serving members and developing our organization and the people in it was often wasted on criticizing the shortcomings of others.

Today, we're in a much better place. After going back to some basic tenets of communication and leadership, our focus is more positive and much less self-absorbed. People are learning about the importance of talking to people rather than about them. We've all learned some valuable lessons about appreciating what each individual brings to our organization. We've identified support and achievement as fundamental to our culture, and our results are reflecting the value of the work.

People are still talking, but more often the feedback is thoughtful and focused on a shared vision of service, performance, and growth. Work on a strong culture is a constant effort, however. Not everyone can adapt and grow at the same pace. Now that we encourage a positive work environment, it is a constant struggle to understand what needs to be heard. What's complaining and what's valid? Some people really do have a proverbial 'ax to grind' and struggle to express themselves in anything other than critical terms.

This is where leadership is invaluable. The truth is that sometimes the emperor has no clothes, and someone has to be bold enough and confident enough to say so. It's important to have people who will share honestly and thoughtfully without fear of repercussions. People also have to be encouraged to look at themselves first as a regular reflective exercise.

Have you heard the term 'legacy accounting'? I really like it. The question asked by Ryan Lilly, "are you an asset or a liability on the world's balance sheet?" can be modified to fit situations on a smaller scale such as our organizations, our teams, and our families. It%apos;s a great reality check if we're willing to ask the honest questions and listen to both our supporters and our critics. The choices that we make as leaders and the things that we say and do create a lasting effect on those within our circle of influence.

The positive or negative legacy that we leave is mostly our choice. Of course, there is a certain vulnerability to giving and receiving feedback. Not everyone will appreciate hearing things about themselves that they don't see or don't want to believe. Delivering and receiving feedback thoughtfully takes practice and sometimes a great deal of character, not to mention thick skin. We can't expect ourselves to be perfect, but we can all strive for excellence. We all have occasions when we say or do things that we wish we hadn't, and that feedback will always be tough to hear.

The choice that we have is in how we react and in how we proceed with the information we're given. Not everyone delivers feedback with our best interests in mind. I believe the key is to develop a strong filter based on self-awareness. One of my favorite feedback quotes is "Don't try to win over the haters; you are not the jackass whisperer." It comes from Scott Stratten via Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly. While I have found it to be true, I also know that one of my greatest strengths is in knowing that sometimes I am the jackass. I don't like that part of myself much, but there is good news. Brene Brown also wrote The Gifts of Imperfection. I've learned from that one, too, and I'm sharing my learning with others. It gives them something to talk about.

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deb

Deb Sparrow



Deb Sparrow worked in financial services senior leadership for over 25 years. She is a firm believer that "the universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart" as she explores the fork in the road and writes about it from time to time. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Priority Learning's inaugural Executive Leadership series. Follow her on LinkedIn at Deb Sparrow worked in financial services senior leadership for over 25 years. She is a firm believer that "the universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart" as she explores the fork in the road and writes about it from time to time. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Priority Learning's inaugural Executive Leadership series. Follow her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborah-sparrow/.

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