Dear employer: I’m not perfect

True story:

I once had an interviewer ask me a question so direct that I had two choices: lie, or tell her an unfiltered, embarrassing truth.

I told the truth.

And I got the job — not in spite of my embarrassing admission but because of it. “That must have been very hard for you,” the interviewer empathized.

“I now know that what I see is what I’m going to get with you,” she said.

Why I share the story

Being imperfect, I suspect, is hard for many of my readers. We didn’t learn imperfection at Wharton. And how can we achieve corporate super stardom if people knew the truth about us?

42 years later, I’m quite comfortable with my imperfections. In fact, I enjoy them. They make me human. Humanity comes in handy when I have an unpopular decision to make.

Dealing with imperfection

My boss Kathleen Horner, then president at StockPot (a Campbell Soup Company), gave me a gift. Before we parted, she gave me an honest assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. “You’re a fantastic individual contributor,” she said, “but not so great managing people.”

That stung. I always wanted to be “the best boss ever.” I wanted to be the boss that everybody loved, the one they’d follow no matter where I went, the one that others wished was their boss. Her feedback burst that bubble.

At my wife’s urging, I found an executive coach. Maureen changed my life. The first assignment she gave me was an emotional intelligence test. And it was the single best thing I ever did for my career. Contact her and take the test.

For the online test, I watched eight video scenarios (all poorly acted) of co-workers saying something on the other side of “my desk.” One was my boss asking me to do something unethical. One was a subordinate who felt slighted. One was the office gossip.

After each vignette, I was asked a series of questions about how I felt about that interaction. Was I nervous? Agitated? Afraid? Happy? I tried to be as honest with my emotions as I could, wondering what the test was going to tell me.

The results

The results were sobering but eye opening. I left with tons of questions and Maureen took me through the scenarios at length. I recanted my experience, absolutely amazed that anyone could possibly have felt anyway other than the way I felt.

That concept – How could anyone feel differently? – was the basis of my problem. I was unable to see how other people might feel in the same situation. My perspective was the only one I could relate to. And nobody likes that in a colleague, subordinate, or boss.

How I changed

Well, for starters, I no longer fantasize about being anyone’s best boss ever. And I recognize my strengths as an individual contributor. I let my team know my “development opportunities” (marketers don’t have weaknesses) and ask for their candid feedback if/when I do something that raises an eyebrow – theirs or someone else’s.

By sharing my story, I have nothing to fear. No one is going to “find out” that I’m not the best boss ever because I tell them up front. And I ask for their help so we can both get the most out of our working relationship. For me, I get to develop as a leader. For them, they don’t have to work with an … well, you get the idea.

Contact Maureen. Take an EQ test.

You may be surprised what’s on the other side of your desk.

Good luck!

P.S. I just shared quite a bit. Now, you. Leave a comment. Or visit my professional site at Medical Marcom for marketing strategy and more.



  1. Joe – this is an amazing story about your vulnerability and I appreciate how open you are about how and what you’ve learned! I only hope I can one day have a similar story.

  2. Thanks for sharing this story as well as your time at Leadership. You’ve set me on an interesting path and I’m looking forward to the journey. It’s exciting to see the results of your efforts and know that you are continuing to use it in your development.

  3. Joe,

    I am glad you took the EQ profile. I took it in 2005, found it’s extremely valuable and went ahead to get certified as EQ Profile Consultant. I gave all of my clients the assessment at the beginning of the coaching relationship and we refer back to their EQ profile from time to time in the coaching sessions.

    I think EQ profile is only a tool. It takes coaching and intentional work to grow our EQ. I personally did the development work with a coach and re-took the test last month. I validated the work I did and the growth I made were consistent. And there was something I overlooked while my attention was focused on the areas I wanted to develop. So I am learning to balance them now.

  4. Hello Joe, I too took the test as part of financial coaching so I could learn to better manage our funds. It was revealing, a bit embarassing, and ultimately quite valuable. It gives client and coach a great tool to work together because it pinpoints the most productive areas to focus on. I second and third the recommendations.

  5. Aaaah…so THAT’s your secret. 😉

    For the record: so far you still go down in my book as ‘best boss ever.’

    Just don’t let the other bosses read this.

  6. And you, Sheryl, one of my favorite team members ever!

    Thanks for the love.

  7. I really liked this article and thank you very much! I love cognitive behavioral therapy and how much it does for people. My sister is the perfect case who lived with OCD and struggled a lot in her marriage because of it. She sought out cognitive behavioral therapy and it changed her life. She is a totally different person. I highly recommend it for anyone who is struggling in life.

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