Leadership can be a pretty lonely place.
Steering yourself and your organisation in pursuit of your chosen strategy whilst managing the needs and wants of your stakeholders. You never please everyone so the balance of your approach is important. Do you focus on being totally decisive, resolute and focused to give your team and your manager or board confidence that you are on the right track? Or, alternatively, do you be more inclusive and approachable and seek feedback from your team about the alternatives ahead. In truth it will probably be somewhere in between with the effectiveness of your approach depending on your style and the situation.
In this excellent Entrepreneur.com article below, contributor Libby Leffler describes the best strategy to honing the most effective leadership style –namely asking for and then acting on constructive feedback.
Libby cites the work of leadership development firm Zenger Folkman who find through their comprehensive 360 feedback programs that people most willing to ask for and receive feedback had leadership effectiveness scores in the 90th percentile. This contrasted with the bottom 10 percent of those willing to ask for feedback, whose leadership scores landed in only the 12th percentile.
The 2017 State of the American Workplace Report by Gallup affirms this idea, stating that “employees are more likely to learn and grow when they receive immediate feedback that is specific, targeted at their development, and able to be put into practice right away.” Over time and with maturity, I came to learn that receiving feedback from others is not only one of the greatest perks of any job but also a reliable way to accelerate one’s career trajectory.
Feedback does not just begin and end with regular performance discussions you have with your manager, though. How often have you, as a leader, stepped back and taken the time to ask your team, cross-functional partners or peers how they experience you? Being open to the idea that feedback is a two-way street — and that the individuals around you could offer insight after your next big presentation, strategy workshop or a team meeting — could change your entire approach.
I want to be clear that simply asking for feedback is never enough — and it can be completely useless if you are not prepared to receive it. Think back to any conversation, personal or professional, where someone may have shared a less-than-positive perspective about something you did or said. This kind of interaction can be extremely uncomfortable; often more so when the critique is delivered in the familiar “praise sandwich” format, where most people fail to hear the good and over-rotate to focus on the bad. Tough feedback can sting. If not received in the correct way, it can even cause people to reshape their informal networks in the workplace: one Harvard Business School study found that employees who received negative feedback might even go so far as to sever relationships with the feedback-givers altogether.
Once we have recognized the importance of feedback, how can we set up an environment where we are genuinely receptive to the good, bad, and even the ugly?
3 practical strategies to receiving feedback
- Be vulnerable.
- Stay unemotional.
- Seek out the truth.
In order to encourage useful and specific feedback, I focus on practicing vulnerability. This means that I might start the conversation with a piece of constructive feedback I’ve received in the past: “Do you think I spoke too much in that meeting? I have heard that from a few other people — and I am actively trying to work on it — so I’m wondering if you experienced it, too.” Sharing this example accomplishes a few things. It can help the other person understand why I want their feedback (to improve) and, ideally, establishes that I am aware of and committed to working on the issue.
Hopefully, at this point, the person feels safe enough to share their perspective. So, what if they tell me that, yes, I did actually speak too much in that meeting?
Now is the perfect time to keep it unemotional. You might be thinking: Doesn’t it hurt a little? Sure. We are humans, not robots. When scientists studied how the body reacts when recalling a recent “social rejection” or experiencing physical pain, they discovered that the two separate incidents activated the same areas of the brain. We know that hearing the tough stuff will hurt — possibly as much as being physically wounded — but, ideally, we are asking for feedback in the spirit of personal growth. Acknowledging that personal development can be painful helps break through our raw emotion to re-focus attention on seeking out the truth, or kernel of insight, in any feedback we receive.
Seek out the truth
Today, I have created a habit of ending all of my one-on-one meetings by asking if the person has feedback for me. By seeking out constructive perspectives on a more regular basis — making this an everyday practice rather than a once-a-year milestone — I have effectively removed everything about the process that makes it so intimidating. I remind myself to be vulnerable, stay unemotional and commit to seeking out the truth in what someone is trying to tell me. The added benefit? Encouraging a culture of real-time feedback has helped foster more open, productive conversations across our team, demonstrating that there is always room for individual growth at every level in the workplace.