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Hi everyone,

I recently received some interesting feedback from my boss, but am not sure how to act on it. I was wondering if I could find some ideas here.

I am a lawyer in a large corporation. I am a female and younger than all of the other attorneys at the company. During my annual review, my boss gave me glowing reviews about my performance, but said that if I want to move into upper management, I need to develop a more professional demeanor.

I am having a hard time finding actionable behavior changes to work on this. I asked my boss for specifics and he said to "be more serious" and "take charge."

Does anyone have any ideas for how to find out exactly what he wants me change. Also I am wondering if this is just his impression or feedback he has received from others. My internal clients all gave me positive reviews so I struggle with maintaining a professional demeanor and being laidback enough that clients are comfortable approaching me and bringing me their problems.

Any advice would be very much appreciated.

Rachael

jhack's picture

Rachael,

Have you had a chance to listen to this podcast: 

http://www.manager-tools.com/2007/04/how-to-receive-feedback-part-two

It provides some details on how to ask for the behavioral details when the feedback is vague, or a characterization. 

If you have listened to it, post a reply and let's go from there. 

John Hack

rachaelip's picture

Thanks John! I hadn't listened to this one in a while and it was useful.

Rachael

 

 

Mark's picture

Rachael-

One of the many series of casts that I would love to get to and have not yet is for female professionals like you.  Perhaps with Wendii coming on board full time IN TWO WEEKS(!), I will get this series started.

The fact is, it's a man's world in corporate life.  It's not right, but it is so.  It's worse where you are, in the legal world, where pay structures and conflict and brutal competition favor testosterone - attracting men.  Female lawyers who make partner are better than their male counterparts, because it's harder to do so as a woman.  (I hope this thinking doesn't surprise you coming from us - we have a singular record on this topic and it comes up repeatedly in 4 years of casts.)

This is the classic female junior manager/executive/professional feedback: be serious, take charge, be a leader.

Blah, blah, blah.  (This is my way of saying your boss is doing a lousy job of helping, though he may well think he's simply putting you through the lack of managerial support and mentorship HE went through.  It's like Mike and I wishing every plebe at West Point had it as hard as we did - silly and narrow minded... all that matters is results.)

So, what to do:  very tricky.  I don't know you.  If I heard your voice, watched you work and interact, I could name ten things in 15 minutes (and I've done this for female lawyers.)

First, though, stop conflating client feedback with your partner's guidance.  My guess is your clients DO like you, for all the reasons your boss feels you don't have what it takes.  Clients like collaboration and listening - lawyers like making your case and defending your position.  Keep doing good client relationship work, and think about changing interoffice behaviors, in small doses (early in such a change effort, every instance is noticed, and you won't be overwhelmed).

Three things that can make a difference for almost anyone (though again, not foolproof):

1. Interject in meetings.  This is often a function not of gender but of behavioral style.  But men partners expect it.  Just because everything's mostly fine doesn't mean the best approach is for you to be quiet.  I'd have to know more to be more specific. What I tell on site clients: just one comment in a meeting.  Just one.  (assuming you're mostly quiet.

2.  Say, "I disagree."  Law firms are one place you can do this, where the credibility of an idea gives you standing your role does not.  Make sure you can back up your disagreement, but don't worry about losing.  The partners win and lose back and forth all the time.

3. Change how you dress.  This is a gross generalization, but I see it so frequently!  If it doesn't apply, ignore me.  But many young lawyers think fashion.  I recommend you think power.  Black suits.  Conservative.  Don't worry about wearing the same thing over and over.  Males don't see it that way.

These are only early efforts.  Share more, and perhaps I can help more completely.

Mark

430jan's picture

It sounds like you have a great start in your career. It is difficult to build confidence, but as each positive experience piles on the next you will come to trust your own expertise. 

One thing that I could add to this excellent advice is to critically listen to your own voice. Many women have a tendency to intonate their voice upward at the end of a sentence. This sounds like you are asking a question instead of making a statement. The other one (sorry for the generalization to gender, but I work with a lot of women!) is to work on stating your case in as few words as possible. Just the brevity alone will help you appear more confident. There are times when you want to communicate with a lot of empathy and stories, as Mark said this is what your clients want to hear! Your male counterparts will appreciate you just getting to the point with confidence in your voice. Most of this is just acting confident at first ( but do stop short of obnoxious :)

Don't wait to feel it, act it first!

Janet

rachaelip's picture

Mark and Janet,

I have not been on the forums in a while and I just saw your response to this message. Thanks for the help!

Rachael

jocadl's picture

Thanks for digging up this old thread, seems like a nugget. I observe a lot of ineffective/inactionable feedback, often times based on interaction styles, but also between males and females. And, on clients vs bosses: Working in an internal IT department, I once got negative feedback from someone up the chain of command for being "too client oriented". Go figure.

I'm interested in your story now, one-and-a-half years down the road. How has it developed, would you like to share?

Regards
Jochen

DPWade's picture

There might be quite a story here since Mark nailed it at the time.  Janet?

-Dave

rachaelip's picture

 Jochen and Dave,

I would be happy to give an update! Here's what has happened in the last year and a half...

  • I attended the Effective Communication conference and learned a lot about how I can be more effective by toning down my "High I" and amping up my "D" in many situations. It takes practice, but I think it works.
  • Mark's #1 advice was not very applicable as I am already pretty vocal in meetings...but I kept it up.
  • I need to do more of what Mark suggested in #2. I try, but as Janet suggested, sometimes I need to be more concise.
  • I did not listen to Mark's #3 advice. Since I work in a corporation (not a law firm) I was afraid that I would be very overdressed wearing a suit every day. Yet by not doing this and being "the youngster," I wonder if I could be more effective.
  • I have had two more performance reviews similar to the one I described in the original post. 

All in all, it's not a great outcome and I am still struggling a bit. If anyone has ideas or thoughts I am all ears. 

Recently my boss suggested that I find a female mentor in the organization to help me "learn what it takes to succeed as a woman." Because I have had previous successful mentoring relationships with both men and women, I suggested that I select a mentor not based on the gender, but based on where I want to take my career and what the two of us could gain from the relationship. 

So that's the update. In short, there is still time to learn.

Rachael

flexiblefine's picture

Has your boss given you any more useful answers or examples in your more recent reviews?

Would you describe him as a "serious", "take charge" type of person? He may want to see more of himself in you as a measure of promotability, which isn't necessarily useful. (As you mention in your reply, he might want more high-D behavior from you.)

About dressing up... What are the other attorneys in the company wearing? How many of them are women? Perhaps there's a useful model for you somewhere.

Your response to his "succeed as a woman" comment was right -- the men/women thing is another one of those Wendii curves, where the variability within groups or labels swamps the variability between them. (Hi, I'm Robert, and I'm a low-D, high-S.)

flexiblefine
Houston, Texas, USA
DiSC: 1476

rachaelip's picture

Robert,

The more recent reviews have not resulted in any more fruitful commentary; however, our group has reorganized quite a bit so there have been other things to talk about.

The boss is definitely a high-high-D. Although I am also, most people who meet me think my "high I" is more visible.

The other attorneys in my office wear business casual clothing. About half are female. 

Thanks for your input. I am huge fan of the Wendii curve concept.

Rachael

DiSC Profile: 7-5-2-1

DHumble's picture

Rachel,

Dressing more conservatively or powerfully would be being more serious and help you take charge.  A few years back I worked as a project manager for a fortune 100 financial firm in the IT area.  One of the "perks" we got was "business casual dress."  The very instant I was out of the suit I was taken less seriously and it was much more difficult to implement the things I had to or want to implement.

Look to your boss and his boss for what is acceptable (usually).  Err on the side of conservative, and more power.

There's and old saying "Clothes make the man."  It's truer than you might think.  To add to the upside it's so much easier to change what you choose to wear than so many other things.  If you go with "classic" imstead of "in style" it's probably a better choice.  Your natural high I will compensate for the "not of the moment" factor.  If you giggle, stop it!  Don't play with your hair.  As a high D I can assure you that this annoys us.  We view it as childish and insecure and someone to roll over on the way by.