Christmas has recently come and gone and if this is an occasion you celebrate you probably got a few presents. You didn’t have to ask people to give you anything. They just gave you gifts because that’s the way these occasions work (and hopefully because they like you).
Feedback is also a gift, especially for leaders. Actually, it’s one of the very best gifts, because it can help leaders get a clear sense of what they’re doing well and what they can try to work on. Unlike the socks and books you got for Christmas though, feedback on your leadership is something you usually need to ask for. Small amounts of it may come your way without you asking, but to get enough feedback you’re going to have to be proactive.
Asking for feedback requires some bravery, because you might hear some things that are unfavorable or unexpected. That’s a big part of the reason why many leaders don’t seek it out. It’s a risk worth taking though because the increased self-awareness it leads to is very valuable. Sadly, too many leaders never reach their potential because they aren’t really clear just what it is they need to get better at. Everyone else around them knows it but it sadly stays a blind spot for them for their whole careers.
For leaders who do summon up the courage to ask for feedback, it’s common to hear the good things but none of the bad. Just last week a manager I am coaching raised this difficulty with me. She is hungry to learn but when she has asked for feedback she has been hearing only the positive. This is affirming and it has built her confidence and her understanding of strengths, but she knows there must be some things she is not doing so well.
If you’ve tried asking for feedback and you’re not getting enough useful information I suggest you experiment with different ways of asking. The common question: “Do you have any feedback for me?” will usually only result in a minimal response along the lines of “you’re going well – just keep doing what you’re doing”.
Some better questions for teasing out useful feedback are:
- “I’d really like to become a better leader. What do you think I can work on?”
- “Here’s a list of characteristics/ capabilities of good leaders. Which do you think are my top 2 and bottom 2?”
- “If I want to be able to move up to a higher level of leadership what are some things I would need to get better at?”
- “I’d really like to improve the way I communicate with the team. Could you please watch me at the next team meeting and make a list of things I am doing well and things I could do better?”
These questions all invite deeper thought and make it easier for the person being asked to give meaningful, useful feedback. Choosing the right people to ask, giving people time to think about the questions in advance, and setting aside a decent amount of time for a discussion will also be helpful.
I hope you’ve found something of interest in this article and if you’re a leader I really hope this encourages you to seek some more feedback.
As for me, I’m always interested in how I can get better. If you have any feedback for me on how I can take my writing or my work with people and teams to the next level I’d love it if you would take the time to let me know.