There is always a moment, or two, when leaders question their impact.  When this happens, they may consider asking a peer, or team member for feedback, however, more often than not, they don’t for a variety of reasons.  Most of those reasons are usually based in fear.  Perhaps a fear of looking bad, or inadequate, or being perceived as if they don’t know what they are doing.  

So why is feedback important?  Without insight the Leader continues ‘as is’, and is therefore unconscious to how their work, behavior, or attitude, actually impacts others.  Without feedback the leader avoids constructive criticism.  Maybe, by not knowing the feedback, it helps them to ‘save face’ in the eyes of others, or they feel it protects them.  The things that truly matter are the positive impacts the Leader could make if adjustments were made, based on constructive feedback.

Coupled with awareness into what works, or does not, if the leader knew what was, or wasn’t received as intended, they could change how people interact with them and the results their team produces.  Knowing what is working for others – or not is powerful.  Feedback, if requested and considered, can effectively influence actions  – even bring out desired goals.

So, who could a leader go for feedback?  Peers may seem to be an obvious answer, but don’t stop there. Your direct manager is another, but also consider your direct reports and colleagues from other teams! Keep in mind that who you are to these different groups will be vastly different and in asking all of them, it will give you a very well rounded perspective; you should hear both positive and constructive feedback as a result and you want that balance.  

For this scenario, let us consider the Leader’s direct reports.  Focusing on this group, has benefits for both the leader and their team.  A few reasons why:

  1. Respect – Regardless of first impressions or how they feel about you, their respect for you immediately goes up (even just a bit) the moment you say, “I value your opinion, can you share with me areas where I can improve?”
  2. Understanding vs. Assumptions – We often arrive at incorrect conclusions and make bad decisions based on how we perceive ourselves and others to be.  Asking for feedback breaks assumptions and allows for someone else’s perspective to be shared and heard, then real conversations can begin.
  3. Growth – No one can improve on what they do not see, or know.  We call these blind spots; and we all have them. 
  4. Enhanced Performance – We all work more effectively when we have an accurate understanding of how our current performance is compared to our desired, or needed performance. 
  5. Team Strength – when you ask for feedback, you’re demonstrating that you value your teams’ opinion.  When you take actions to adjust what is suggested; you are removing a major challenge that exists in most companies – inauthenticity. 

So, how does a Leader ask for feedback?

  1. Make the Request Private: Always ask for feedback in a 1:1 scenario, not in a group setting.
  2. Ask Multiple Sources: Feedback from a variety of people allows for objectivity as it isn’t coming from a single group.
  3. Explain Why You Are Asking: People need to feel it’s safe to share.  Prior to someone giving feedback, they will need to be certain of the reason why you seek feedback. They will want to be sure the reason is, so that you can improve.  Making sure your intentions are clear up front is key.
  4. Be specific:  People are far more likely to give you helpful feedback if you give them a specific area you’d like feedback on.
  5. Start with asking ‘what works’:  Asking what works first helps set the stage where sharing becomes easier.   Then let them know you’re requesting to hear about what doesn’t work.  It is here that the learning and growth opportunities exist for you.
  6. Give Them Time: Present your request for feedback and let them know they don’t need to respond right away. They can circle back with you after having time to thoughtfully think it over.
  7. Connect in-person, or face to face on Virtual Zooms: Feedback is best delivered and received in person, or at least over video due to the majority of communication existing as non verbal communication. This allows for deeper context to be seen via facial expression and body language.
  8. Be grateful: It’s difficult to be truly authentic especially in a professional setting; therefore, be grateful that the person was courageous and shared their perspective with you.  Listen and be sure to thank them!  

What to do now? Take time to think about what you’ve learned.  Remember, feedback is a source of data.  It does not have to become your truth. Although do consider that it’s real for that person; therefore, you can accept it, then choose how you want to respond.  How you choose to manage the insights ultimately influences how you are seen and who you are being as a Leader.