A young worker stands thinking at the railing at an open office at work.

Emotionally intelligent career advice: Who’s writing your reference letter?

It continues to amaze me how some employees treat the very people who will be writing their reference letters. Who’s writing your reference letter or who is going to provide a reference for you and what are they going to say about you? What do you want them to say?

I once worked with a senior person, a director, who reported to a tyrant of a ‘command and control’ VP. His adaptation to that situation was to lay low, stay out of the line of fire, and look for another job in his off hours.

Managers need to demonstrate leadership skills if they want their team leader to put it in a reference letter.  Tweet This!

In a coaching session, my question to him was, “so, when you are asked to provide a reference or a letter of reference from a previous supervisor are you going to ask your current boss?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“What is your current boss going to say about you?” I asked.

“She’s going to say I’m a pretty good worker and I’m pretty quiet, I guess,” he replied.

I took a breath. “Mmmm, does that sound like a leader to you?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment. “No, I guess laying low is not doing me any favours,” he said. I asked him what he needed to do to improve his standing with his team.

“I guess I need to demonstrate more of the leadership skills I want her to tell my next potential employer about,” he replied.

“Then let’s get to work on determining what those are and how you’re going to do that”, I said. And he agreed.

This is not an uncommon situation. I coach senior leaders who struggle with these kinds of difficulties from the other end of these relationships. Their direct reports sometimes fail to support team directives, have unsubstantiated and controversial opinions, and are difficult to work with.

When I hear these stories it makes me wonder about the employee’s future goals and I will sometimes ask these managers, “what does this employee aspire to do within the company – and who is going to write their letter of reference for their next position?”

 

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