Why the best leaders crave feedback
Leaders should still ask for feedback, says Jaren Nichols.
Feedback isn’t just for rookies. As a leader, a significant part of your job is formally evaluating team members, offering them feedback, and holding them accountable for how they apply it. Throughout your career, the feedback you’ve earned is necessary for growth.
And just because you’re the one offering it most of the time these days doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from some constructive criticism yourself.
In fact, the very best leaders crave feedback. They aren’t satisfied with their current performance; they want to lead more productive teams, improve their leadership abilities, and further their careers—and feedback from colleagues and direct reports alike is the key.
Let’s consider why even top executives benefit from honest feedback - and the best ways to ask for it, even from a position of leadership.
Benefits of feedback
Great leaders aren’t born great. Even a talented violin prodigy won’t see the inside of Carnegie Hall without personalised guidance from a master teacher. Likewise, natural leaders won’t reach their full potential without making course corrections based on an honest recognition of their shortcomings. Though it can be uncomfortable to ask for feedback, doing so is well worth the effort.
To get to this point in your career, you've invested significantly in yourself through conferences, courses, and other learning experiences. Seeking and applying feedback is another significant source of practical knowledge that will hone your leadership skills. Learning others’ honest opinion of your performance enables you to view yourself from new angles.
Feedback fosters change; use it to set measurable goals and track your improvement.
If you want to foster a culture of giving and receiving feedback within your organisation, take the lead.
Lead the way
As a leader, you play a vital role in modeling and establishing company culture. If you want to foster a culture of giving and receiving feedback within your organisation, take the lead. Soliciting feedback requires vulnerability, and when employees see that a leader is opening up to improvement, they are more likely to do the same.
Feedback can reveal how well you and your leadership style fit within the organization’s culture. Evaluating feedback also provides insight into what is expected of you, and how well you are fitting the position you were hired for. Review the feedback you receive in terms of your current and future role within the company.
This is especially useful if you are new to your position or considering a change. If the feedback you receive consistently clashes with your natural personality and style, you can evaluate whether it is time to adjust—or if it is time to find a role or company that is a better cultural fit.
How to solicit feedback
Though feedback is invaluable to even the most senior leaders, soliciting criticism, especially from direct reports, can be a challenge. After all, who wants to be the one to tell the emperor he isn’t wearing any clothes? To get the feedback you crave, give these best practices a try.
Ask for it
Most team members aren’t going to speak up with negative feedback voluntarily, especially to someone who has power over their future at the company. So if you actually want genuine feedback, you’re going to have to ask for it.
Give your subordinates permission to let you know how they think you’re doing, and provide a simple, non-threatening way to do so - an anonymous online survey or comment box might be helpful, for example. Or ask them straight out in a one-on-one meeting.
You may have to ask multiple times before employees feel comfortable enough to take you up on the offer.
Be specific and timely
While there’s definitely room for ongoing feedback requests, you might find your team responds better to specific, timely solicitations. What exactly would you like feedback about? Do you want opinions on a training, your text for an upcoming speech, or how you conduct team meetings? Ask specific questions, and you’ll get specific answers.
Additionally, don’t wait for annual end-of-year reviews to look for feedback. It’s more motivating to make regular course corrections than to be handed a report filled with criticism at the end of the year.
If employees know you’ll get angry or defensive, they aren’t likely to give constructive feedback again. Instead, when you receive negative feedback, thank them for their thoughts and ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand.
Responding graciously and making adjustments after negative feedback models the behavior for your employees and encourages them to be open with you in the future.
Cultivate honest critics
While you want to hear from everyone within your influence, sometimes it is helpful to cultivate a small group of colleagues, usually your peers or a mentor, whom you can trust to give honest feedback. Make sure this person observes your leadership and work on a day-to-day basis.
Turn to them regularly for a thoughtful assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and invite them to offer unsolicited feedback whenever necessary.
Once you’ve solicited and collected feedback, the next step is to make plans to implement changes—and to continue seeking the feedback you need to become the great leader you want to be.
About the author
Jaren Nichols is Chief Operating Officer at ZipBooks Online Accounting Software.
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