Do I Have Food Stuck In My Teeth?

After any meal, we’ve all had to ask, “Do I have food stuck in my teeth?”  It’s a common problem that can happen to most of us… and when it does happen, we’re frequently unaware of that horrifyingly large broccoli morsel that’s now front-and-center of our smile! J


We have to ask others, because we just don’t know what they can see that we, ourselves, cannot.  It’s also important to ask, because other people rarely bring it to your attention (even though it would prevent you from feeling SO embarrassed!)


I use this analogy, because it’s common….just as common as leaders believing that their perceptions of themselves and their organizations are spot on.  The truth is accurate awareness can be hard to capture, and it takes work. 


We all do and say things that affect those around us.  Hopefully, we’re authentic and consistent, so we’re easy to “figure out.”  But there always seem to be things that we do that we’re not even aware of.  They may not even be intentional, but things can spin out of control from just one simple misunderstanding.  


Do you recall the sitcom, “Three’s Company” with John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt?  I loved that show.  I laughed at every episode. If you look back, you’ll notice a common theme.  Almost every single episode was a result of someone projecting an image, saying something or doing something that was not what they intended.  They had no idea that someone misunderstood, and it turned into a comedy of errors.  That’s fun to watch on a sitcom, but it’s not what you want happening with your business.


Why is awareness so important for leaders?


Awareness allows us to lead with our strengths and empower others’ strengths.  It’s so important to know when to lead and when to follow.  You can engage and motivate people by leveraging them where you need them most AND where they are most skilled.  This brings out the best in everyone and produces greater results.  Self awareness, as well as team awareness is critical to implement this strengths-based approach.


Awareness allows us to address issues.  As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  But guess what?  If you don’t even know it’s broken, then you don’t know to fix it!  Think about taking golf lessons.  One of the first things commonly done nowadays is to video the client’s swing.  Why?  Because people, although controlling their body, may not realize how their unintentionally moving throughout their swing!  They may not even accept it until they see it….and video doesn’t lie.  We have to be aware (or be made aware!) to change behaviors or offer the right support.


Awareness leads to continual improvement.  Similar to the point made above, if we’re aware (and accurate in that awareness) then we know what to address for improvement and further development.  Don’t just assume you have the most accurate assessment of yourself, your organization or your clients – ask them!!  By asking for honest, direct feedback from others (and letting them know it’s safe to do this!) you’ll better understand others’ perspectives, improve your performance and better meet their needs.  Tools such as 360 degree assessments and “Voice of the Customer” surveys can be valuable in gaining this insight.


Awareness strengthens relationships.  As you become more aware of yourself, your actions and words and how those are received, it allows you to make choices that will better serve your team.  In addition, with more awareness of one another, your team is also enabled to be more understanding of (and even appreciate!) each others’ perspectives and styles.  This could lead to breakthroughs in team-building, employee morale and motivation.


If you want to be the most effective leader, be sure that you have a keen awareness of your style and how it’s received by others.  Ask your employees – at all levels – about their opinions and feedback on the organization.  What do they love?  What would they change?  Find out from your clients why they work with you, how your serve them better than competitors and what more could you be doing for them?  The answers to these questions will help you and your organization create the best strategies for success!


As a leader, what’s one thing you can do this week to test if your self-assessment is accurate?  How can you ensure honest feedback?  Also consider, how can you provide feedback to someone else (the truth with love) to help them improve?  Please don’t let them sit there with broccoli in their teeth!!


Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners, a leadership and talent management coaching firm in Cincinnati, OH.  Erin is passionate about helping leaders to maximize their effectiveness, to make the most positive impact on their people and to successfully grow their business.  She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Authentic Leadership Cincinnati, a non-profit organization formed to develop, encourage and support values-infused and people-focused leadership.  Erin can be reached at

29 thoughts on “Do I Have Food Stuck In My Teeth?

  1. Erin,

    Once again you have committed to words something that is important for all of us to be reminded of. It is not who we think we are, but what others think we are that counts. We can influence what they perceive by becoming more self-aware and by seeking honest and open feedback from others.

    I remember in years past my joke about myself was that I took criticism, I just didn’t take it well. I learned over time that the joke was on me. I really didn’t take it well with the result being, yup, broccoli in my teeth.

    Whether we are reflecting on ourselves as individuals or on our companies as a whole, it is critical to know how others are perceiving us so that we may improve. Creating channels of acceptance for honest feedback is a critical part of that process.

    Keep the articles coming. They are great!

  2. Erin,

    Thank you for illuminating the concept of self-awareness and its profound impact on our success potential. After years as a corporate executive and now leadership consultant, I find this to be the “jumping off point” for those who want to grow as a leader or coach.

  3. Erin,

    I love the title of this post! It really gets the reader to notice. Some may be reading this while taking a lunch break, and I bet they will look in the mirror the minute they finish lunch.

    Leaders, as you have pointed out, must also be aware of how they “appear” to others. No one intentionally smiles knowing that broccoli is in their teeth, so too, effective and successful leaders don’t knowingly have behaviors that turn other people off. Self awareness from 360 feedback instruments, coaching, mentoring or a personal council of advisers are great tools to use to enhance someone’s self awareness.

    Well done.

  4. Good insights, Erin. Technique is important, too. The truth, even delivered in love, can be mistimed and poorly delivered. That’s why I tell every coaching client, several times, that I may hurt or upset them with my feedback, but that’s never my intent.

  5. Excellent post Erin!

    I have often wondered why people hesitate to tell us about the broccoli in our teeth?! It can be awkward to tell someone there’s something in their teeth. What’s interesting is that when asked everyone would want that feedback!

    Awareness in all relationships is critical. Feedback, self-reflection and yes sometimes video will help us see things we don’t or that we choose not to. This can be an intimidating process for a leader but well worth the short term pain for a long term gain.

    I do believe people have to be open to receiving feedback or it will backfire. If you ask for feedback you have to be ready to receive it graciously. That doesn’t mean you have to like it but your response is key if you want to have continued open and honest dialog with others. Human nature is to become defensive when receiving feedback and often times we attempt to explain our intentions at that point. Simply say thank you just like you would if you received a compliment.

    The other key as a leader is to be sure to do something with the feedback. All too often I see effective feedback given to leaders that they simply discount or ignore because it’s easier to do than it is to address it. You risk trust, the relationship and integrity if you ask for feedback and don’t use it.

    Self-awareness comes from many places and an effective leader will open his/her arms when they are fortunate to receive it. Thanks for a thought provoking post!


    • Thanks so much, Kelly. I’ve always wondered that too! Perhaps because people don’t want to be part of embarrassing someone else.

      You’re so right about the leader needing to DO something with the feedback too! Until action is taken, it’s not doing much to change things!

  6. Another great post, Erin.

    He will faithfully provide ‘Discernment’ to those leaders who choose Him. Wrap that discernment in the cloak of ‘Humility’ and you have a very clear window through which Awareness flourishes.



    • So true, Mark. Things I consistently ask God for: discernment, wisdom and for me to fulfill the purpose He created me for. I also ask Him to help me become aware of when I’m getting in His way!! (That’s a big one!)

  7. Leadership awareness is really important to a leader. The leader needs to understand how he/she is perceive by their constituents. Are their words and actions consistent? They need to consistenty audit themselves and make sure they are being true to their words. Because integrity is the basis of the relationship between a leader and its constituent. One way of validating is through feedback. Leaders should take advantage of this and establish a connection with everyone in the organization.

  8. Great post Erin

    I agree that we need to break, re-mould and refine a few things in our lives to develop our character as leaders. If it ain’t broken then we need to be looking at what else we can fix as leaders . . .

  9. The demand of a leader prevails in every successful organization development. A leader, whether is of authoritarian or democratic type, should have some leadership qualities.

  10. Hi Erin,

    Great analogy! And so common. I would agree with Wally Block in regard to the “technique” of giving the feedback. Just as I wouldn’t want someone laughing, while pointing to the food stuck in my teeth, I will receive feedback if it is given with good intention, privately, and ultimately allows me to “save face” so to speak. One thing I advise clients is to phrase their feedback in a way that the person can hear it. For example, “John, when you confronted Sally in front of her peers she was clearly embarrassed. I know that was not your intention. I wonder what other ways you can give her that feedback so she will hear it, rather than react in such a shocked manner?” Additionally, the Leader must create an environment that subordinates not only know they are allowed to give feedback, but that it is truly welcomed and appreciated. This takes great effort, practice and demonstration.
    Your article does a fabulous job of recognizing the importance of empowerment, while respecting that leadership is not about position, but about the person.

  11. Of course awareness and responsibility are the pre-requisites for coaching that John Whitmore identifies in ‘Coaching for Performance’ and quite rightly so.

    After all, if we are not self-aware, it would be easy to think it was all everybody else’s fault eh?

    BTW, up to 70% of employees leave their job because of the behavior of their boss – hmm, wondering how self-aware they might be…

    • Martin,
      Thanks so much for commenting. I apreciate your additional insights. That 70% number is a bit scary – didn’t realize was that high! YIKES! Yes, indeed, self-wareness is key to being a successful leader! Come visit again soon!

  12. Hi Erin,

    I remember when I first read this post (when I wasn’t able to make a comment) it was right when I was going to write about something similar. I still might!

    I always want to know if I “have food in my teeth”. Now that this is American Idol season, it pains me to see the poor souls who get up there and sing but have no clue they can’t sing because their “friends” told them they were great.

    We could all benefit be being givers of honest, caring feedback to those people in our lives who would care to receive it.

    Thanks again for a wonderful post!

    • Thanks for the comment, Janna. It always makes my heart sad to see those Idol contestants too! You’re right – they would benefit so much more from focusing on their real strengths and talents….if only someone would help them get the right perspective…

  13. Pingback: MAPping Company Success

  14. Erin,

    Thanks so much for the post. Obviously receiving is key to self-awareness for leaders. Most of the time we think of feedback as developmental or rather negative and forget that it can be appreciative as well.

    In the spirit of appreciation, I wanted to give you the feedback that you are setting a great example by responding personally to each person’s comments. It shows you care and really encourages participation. Thank you for doing that.


  15. Human beings are complex and diverse. To become more self-aware, we should develop an understanding of ourselves in many areas. Key areas for self-awareness include our personality traits, personal values, habits, emotions, and the psychological needs that drive our behaviors.

    Isaak Estes
    Leadership Coaching

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s