There are at least 10 challenges to getting the feedback you need to avoid being a stunted, ineffective leader:
- We don’t get enough feedback
- We don’t get feedback from the right persons
- We don’t get accurate feedback
- We don’t get usable feedback
- We only get certain types of feedback
- We can’t be sure we interpret feedback correctly
- We frequently misinterpret the absence of feedback
- We often don’t want the feedback we do receive
- We’d rather do something else than pursue getting feedback
- We are likely to be selective in which feedback we pay attention to
(Did I miss any you can think of?)
Point of clarification: Feedback is not only the “big” events that happen occasionally –your annual performance review with your boss, or the occasional HR-facilitated course that included a 360 profile. These don’t happen frequently enough to support your leadership growth week after week and month after month.
You have two basic options to get the frequent feedback you need:
1. Ask for feedback directly
2. Invite feedback indirectly
In some situations, with some relationships, leaders can ask for feedback directly and get it. When that’s an option, use it! But for most leaders this is the exceptional case, not the rule. Too often it comes across as “I want you to tell me how great that was.” If you’re in administrative positions of power, people will be naturally reluctant to give you feedback they think you won’t like. If our feedback is especially negative, we’ll often find ways to avoid giving it to you. This varies by culture and person, of course, but looking for negative feedback where people think it might damage the relationship you have with them, well… good luck with that.
There is an effective “going forward” strategy for indirect feedback that will help everyone involved. Ask questions like these:
“The next time I need to give a presentation like that to our group, is there anything I should do differently?”
“Looking ahead to next quarter, is there anything that we can improve in our preparation work?”
“We had to do a lot of email communications last year and I expect we will this year, too. Any ideas on how to improve them?”
By asking the forward-looking question, you’ve made it 10 times safer for people to give you input — and usually it’s easy to translate that input into feedback on how you did something in the past, both positive and negative. It’s indirect, still subject to interpretation, but you’re more likely to actually hear useful, actionable information this way.
You can also follow-through for clarifications and say “tell me more about that” to flesh out the initial ideas that people give you. One of the side-benefits of this approach is that it fosters the “forward thinking, forward planning” culture characteristic of the most successful organizations. Practice this “forward ask for backwards feedback” approach and you’ll get more of what you need, plus you’ll strengthen your working relationships with others.
What other suggestions do you have for getting the feedback you need? What has worked for you? Let us know in the comments below!