What’s Your Emotional Wake?

When we assess people at work, we typically look at their work product.  Do they produce what they’re supposed to?  What’s the quality?  Yet there’s another component that’s equally important, what impact do people have on the rest of the team?

I’m working with a senior leadership team facing a tough competitive situation. They need to ramp up their mid-level leaders to take on more responsibility.  The senior team came together recently to do assessments of the next tier leaders.  They wanted to determine who are the best people to take the company to the next level.

As you might imagine, there were disagreements.

Here’s what I noticed.  When rating an employee, their immediate manager tends to rate their production.  The direct manager’s lens is: Does the person get done what I need them to do?  Do they do it well?  Do they do it on time?  Is this a person I can count on?

Leaders from other departments rate the person on completely different criteria. They evaluate things like: What does my team think about this person?  How easy is this person to deal with?  Does my team like working with this person, or do they avoid them?

Other leaders are more likely to evaluate what I call the emotional wake.

We all leave an emotional wake.  It’s the feeling people have after they interact with you.

I live on a lake.  I see boats going by from my home office window.  Every boat leaves a wake.  The size of the wake varies depending on the speed and size of the boat.  Wake boats are designed to create a big wake, hence the name.   They chop up the water; waves spew out everywhere.  They’re designed so the wakeboarded have waves to jump.   When a wake boat goes by your dock, you know everything is going to be disrupted.

Some people are like wake boats.  They get the job done, but they leave a trail of destruction behind them.  Wakeboarding can be fun, as a sport on a Saturday, if you’re 20 . Nobody likes having to deal with a big emotional wake at work.

The senior team I was working with quickly recognized, great work output alone does not make you an excellent contributor.  People who leave a negative emotional wake behind them have a chilling effect on the organization. The team agreed if they wanted to win in a competitive market they needed great work output, and a focused positive team.  We decided potential leaders would be evaluated on two criteria: their work product and their emotional wake.

To evaluate the emotional wake, we settled on three criteria:

  • How do teammates feel when they deal with this person?
  • How well does this person model our values?
  • Would you like to work for this person?

The last question is the kicker, if you wouldn’t want to work for this person, why should anyone else have to? When the senior team asked these questions, they realized some of their people need more coaching and training. Promoting someone who is leaves a negative wake weakens the entire operation.

At this point, you might be ruminating about the people you know who leave a negative emotional wakes behind them.  Before you spend too much time stewing about their shortcomings, pause and consider this:

If someone asked about your emotional wake, how would people evaluate you?

Jumpstart Your Noble Purpose