Is it relevant what other people think of you?

I read this article over my muesli this morning.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2013/feb/03/russell-brand-irrelevant-what-other-people-think

It’s an interview with Russell Brand, (in)famous comedian, actor and celebrity, in which he makes several references to not being concerned about other people’s opinions;”What one quickly – or in my case slowly – learns is that it’s irrelevant what other people think of you. It’s none of your business.”

I was struck by the phrase that it’s ‘none of your business’ and it got me thinking about how this plays out in organizational life. While I can readily agree that it’s quite literally a path to madness if one bases ALL one’s self-esteem and identity on other’s approval, it seems to me that the opposite extreme is just as dangerous. From what I can tell, only psychopaths and narcissists are truly immune to other people’s feelings.

And as an executive coach, I’m part of an industry that recommends the principle of 360 degree feedback, actively seeking out ‘what other people think of you’ as a tool to aid self-awareness and effective leadership.  Business leaders who follow Brand’s advice too closely might find that they quickly lose the ability to get things done through other people.  Because humans are social animals.  Even the neuroscientists are now confirming what we already knew, that we are ‘hard-wired’ to relate to other people, and that our sense of identity can only exist in relation to others.

As a coach, I think a large part of my job is to help my clients develop a healthy, growing understanding of who they are and how they bring themselves to their role for the good of themselves, their teams, businesses and customers. This requires finding a more nuanced understanding about the inter-relationship of self and other than Brand seems to be describing in the interview. It requires an appreciation of how other people respond to you, without this defining who you are.It requires a healthy sense of autonomy, without becoming immune to humanity of your co-workers and fellow humans. Tricky stuff and a work in progress for us all – including Russell Brand.

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