Do you have a social radar?

1024 576 David DeWolf

Many moons ago I received feedback from a client that one of our more senior team members was “creepy.” Yes, creepy was the actual word that was used, which as you can imagine, caught my attention and prompted me to dive in to figure out what was going on.

It turns out creepy wasn’t the best word to describe this individual’s behavior. Rather, the individual was just a bit socially awkward in certain situations. To make matters worse this individual also seemed to be quite oblivious to how they were perceived. Many of this person’s peers and our clients simply shrugged this off as a personality nuance and saw the person as a rock star; there were a few, however, that used words like creepy, awkward and weird to describe the individual.

On one of the boards I sit on there is an individual who’s habitually long-winded. The person is brilliant and a strong leader but unfortunately doesn’t know how to deliver a concise message. At board meetings, the individual will listen, digest and ask questions – appropriately so – and then speak up to make a point. Unfortunately, when we reach that point, half the board holds their breath. They know that they are about to hear the point made, not twice, but three, four or five times over the course of the next 10 minutes. Unfortunately, this board member misses the visual cues that should give away that we can move on.

Neither of these individuals are bad people. In fact, they both are talented folks with a fairly obvious personality quirk that rubs some folks the wrong way. That shouldn’t be an issue; we all have weaknesses. In these situations, though, the individual’s lack of awareness magnifies their challenges. They are oblivious to their quirks.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to give our teams direct feedback so they can address issues. It is also our responsibility to develop a social radar that allows us to read body language, interpret reactions and gauge when those around us are perceiving us as not totally on the mark. Unfortunately, the more senior you get, the less direct feedback you receive.

If you haven’t developed a social radar, it may be time to start practicing situational awareness and reading the looks on others’ faces. You might be surprised by the impact it will have on your leadership – most folks can deal with quirks when you’re honest about having them and working to overcome them. Continual quirkiness, without acknowledgement and deliberate work, however, tends to wear on those around us.