In the End, You Must Answer to Yourself

Did I do a good job?  Was it an example of my best work?  Did I make errors?  If so, how could I have handled them differently?

These kinds of questions are likely to run through your head quite often when you occupy a managerial position.  Management is an inexact science, one that seems to invite backward reflection and second-guessing.  Rehashing of your decisions are a normal, and often useful, exercise.

But not all reflective questions are healthy, even if they may sometimes be necessary.  At the top of my list:  How were my actions perceived by others in the organization, particularly by those in more senior management positions?

Perception becomes reality

Alas, you could be the most skilled managerial practitioners on the planet, and unless those capabilities are recognized by those higher up in the organization, it will likely do you no good.  To be sure, results count.  You might be tempted to belief that over the long haul they will separate good managers from mediocre.  But so much of what managers do falls into the realm of “not measurable” that perceptions almost always become critical to your success.

Even the measurable stuff can have an asterisk next to it.

Ever hear of a manager being described as the recipient “good luck” or “fortunate timing?”  While senior management is happy to have good results, they will still interpret your role in obtaining them.

Which implies that perhaps you should proactively “spin” the situation, yourself.  But should you?

In my experience, the management of perceptions is a necessary, but uncomfortable, process that must be attended to if you want to succeed in many corporate jobs.

Stress and strain

I worked for a boss who was continuously assessing every manager working for him through the lens of performance perceptions.  Since he continued to cultivate contacts throughout my organization – people some would term these contacts “spies” – I felt like I could never let down my guard.

Every moment I spent on the job was a source of potential problems.  Every decision I made was the subject of second-guessing.  Every day was another act on the stage of our company’s “business theater.”

In the beginning, it was a game.  Could I figure out how he was gathering his information?  Could I spin situations to my advantage?  Could I avoid missteps?

After a couple of years, it became stressful.  The stakes were rising as I tried to avoid any mistakes (which is, I believe, probably impossible).  Toss in a little guilt or regret for each and every error – no matter how small – and you can imagine how the tension mounted.

Eventually, I came to understand that I couldn’t obsessively manage each and every situation.  As that realization occurred, I also passed from stress into irritation.  Why should I have to examine every word and action through a microscope?  It was limiting, and inefficient, and downright annoying.


Eventually, I realized I really needed to satisfy myself.  Was I taking the right actions?  Was I handling issues professionally and adeptly?  Was I performing well? – not based on anyone else’s perceptions, but based on my own understanding of the challenges of the job and my responses to it.

While it wasn’t safe to completely ignore spin, perception, and interpretation, I didn’t need to linger over every gory detail.

This was good, because just like every one of my predecessors, I realized that “perception management” can only carry you so far.  Eventually, things happen that no amount of spin can explain or offset.

By that time I was in a business unit that had circumstances stacked against it – economic disaster, bad acquisitions, errors in the selection of key managers, overly ambitious projects.  Some of those problems simply happened, others I inherited, and a few were mistakes of my own making.  I took the actions I thought would be best to navigate through a period of what would certainly be poor financial performance.  I didn’t take my foot off the gas.  I definitely didn’t throw in the towel, either by abandoning ship or waiting for the ax to fall.

But it was too little, too late.

After months of struggle, I was eventually fired.


After working through my initial feelings, I began to realize that I’d been faced with my personal version of “The Perfect Storm.”  I’m not sure anyone would have had the skills and foresight to successfully navigate through those troubled times.

One thing was sure – once I was out of the company, I didn’t need to satisfy that boss any longer.  His perceptions no longer mattered.

I was left with my own evaluation of the circumstances surrounding my termination.  Did I handle each problem that came up with skill and intelligence?  Did I make mistakes, and if so, were they predictable and preventable?  Did I continue to work at it all the way to the end, fighting to make the right calls and moves to improve the business?

Fundamentally, I was asking myself about my own self-worth.


Perception can easily become your boss’s reality, and you need to pay attention to it.  At the same time, try to avoid getting your own self-worth wrapped up in his or her assessment.  If you can’t, you’re putting the evaluation of your value in the hands of a person who isn’t living the situation, and likely has other agendas (like protecting themselves, even at your expense.)

Make sure that you can be proud of your own actions, that they reflect the best of your capabilities, drive, and perceptivity.

That way, no matter what actions others may take, you’ll know you can be proud of the way you comported yourself.  34.3

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To the right is the cover of the Audiobook version of INCENTIVIZE.  This novel is about a U.S. based mining company, and criminal activity that the protagonist (a woman by the name of Julia McCoy) uncovers at the firm's Ethiopian subsidiary.  Her discover sets in motion a series of events that include, kidnapping, murder, and terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.