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Ron Thomas


Vice President

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Blog: How well would you do if ranked by former employees?


I saw and interesting article this week about a Glassdoor survey which shows that the highest rated CEO is Tim Cook of Apple.

His approval rating was a whopping 97 percent. That rating even beat out his former boss, Steve Jobs. And as so many have reported, Jobs was pretty challenging to work for.
That was not what surprised me, though. I wondered about how we, as leaders and managers, would be rated by our former direct reports. How would we fare?
Staying connected with former colleagues
This week I heard from two of my former direct reports that I have stayed in touch with over the years. As a matter of fact, since my college days I have been working to stay connected with former co-workers and direct reports, some more than others.
My conversations with the two I talked with this week centered on their careers, and basically, which turn should they take? My advice is always simple and straightforward: take the turn that leads you toward your destination. If you don’t have a destination, any turn will get you there.
I am sure that if my former direct reports were polled, I would get a fairly good, passing grade.
There is lots of discussion lately about senior managers “connecting with their workforce.” John Hollon at TLNT did a great piece last week tying engagement to senior leadership.
But let’s walk out of the C-Suite and head down the hallway, or maybe up the stairs.
The Grand Canyon gap analysis
How would your staff rate you if you were to leave or if they were to leave? Rating ourselves, and having someone else rating us, may create a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon. Nothing is more helpful than finding out how others see you.
If you can conduct that exercise in an impersonal manner, you find information you simply can’t get any other way. It’s like doing consumer research.
Many times I have counseled managers who think that books should probably be written about their leadership style. They just know that they are the greatest. They think that they have it going on! But as I continue the process of surveying their direct reports, I get a different picture.
My friend Marshall Goldsmith, who is a world renowned executive coach, tells the story of working with a high profile CEO at the board’s request. This leader talked about his prowess as an executive and how his executive team sees him as a great manager. In his eyes, he had it going on.
As part of Marshall’s coaching model, he interacts with the CEO’s immediate family as well as the executive team to get their feedback. When he talked to the wife and kids, they all said almost in unison that he was a jerk. He knew EVERYTHING, He was always RIGHT; it was always HIS WAY OR THE HIGHWAY.
When he talked to the executive team, the picture they painted was almost the same. This is what I call, the Grand Canyon gap analysis. We are never as good as we think we are, and in a lot of cases, not as bad as we think are.
Modeling good behavior
I worked for a CEO at one time named Sharon Patrick, the founding chief executive of Martha Stewart Living. She was a marvel to watch in action. You could walk down the halls and hear her voice echoing out from just about any department.
Most amazing to me was seeing her sitting in the mail room. Yes, the mail room. She would stop in and grab a chair to talk about the game or just shoot the breeze. She was so approachable. She thought nothing of sticking her head into any conference room meeting and just grabbing a chair to see what was going on. She was amazing.
This was a paradox for me because I had just joined the company from IBM, and let’s just says that something like that would never happen there. NEVER!
Managerial characteristics to live by
So here’s my list of managerial characteristics and behaviors that I have always tried to live by:
  • Coach privately and constructively;
  • Praise publicly and generously;
  • Always maintain a positive attitude – never lose your cool;
  • Actively foster a creative and fun work environment;
  • Listen sincerely, speak thoughtfully;
  • Hire great people and focus on developing them;
  • Care about every employee’s career;
  • Be quick to take blame if something goes wrong, but credit others when things go well;
  • Never gossip or complain about a manager or co-worker; and,
  • Try to treat every employee with respect.
Sometimes I would falter on some of the things on my list, but I always used it as an anchor to keep me grounded.
So next time you read or hear about how someone is ranked, whether as a senior executive or manager, before you pass judgement, think about how you would stack up. You may just may be in for a big surprise.

Ron Thomas is vice president of StrategyFocusedHR.

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Ron Thomas

Vice President

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