Executives who reach out to others to get feedback on their leadership performance are doing themselves, their organizations and their shareholders a big favour. You can’t make improvements if you don’t know what’s working well and what needs to change. Far too often, leaders, particularly those in the most senior roles, are isolated from meaningful feedback that can help them make the changes needed to be even more effective.
Unfortunately, once senior leaders receive meaningful and actionable feedback, change can be challenging. With a backdrop of demanding schedules, competing interests, critical issues management and strategic priorities, the time needed for transformation is often lacking, not to mention the need to get more feedback on how desired changes are ‘showing up’ to others.
As I’ve encouraged my clients in senior leadership roles, it isn’t a solo walk; there are others who have a vital and vested interest in supporting leadership development at the top. Here are several suggestions to meaningfully engage others in your development efforts:
1.) Direct Reports
- Arguably, no group benefits more from positive leadership change than your direct reports. As a more effective and capable senior leader, even if in less obvious ways, you will enhance their success and their teams across the organization.
- It’s therefore both wise and practical for direct reports to play an active role in supporting you in desired change. If they’re aware of an improvement priority on your agenda, they should seek out opportunities for you to demonstrate this priority within their sphere of activity and provide relevant feedback when you’ve demonstrated the desired behaviour or action.
2.) Board Members
- In progressive organizations, board members may receive feedback regarding your leadership development priorities. Rather than take a hands-off approach, board members should encourage updates from you to strengthen their support for your efforts and to make agreed-upon midstream adjustments, if required.
- In those circumstances when your development priority strongly intersects with board functioning and member engagement, the question needs to be asked “what’s the board’s role in this?” For example, if you are strengthening your strategic conversations with the board and reducing operational focus, board members themselves should strive to engage in broader and higher level discussions.
- A trusted peer can be a great source of advice and encouragement in terms of targeted development. Sharing proposed actions with a colleague, before moving forward, helps fine-tune the effort and provides a valuable dose of reality.
- Respected colleagues can also be an excellent sounding board in terms of your progress. They can offer straight-up feedback as well as provide actionable ideas to further enhance your development effort. Colleagues see you in all kinds of work-related settings, so they can also provide real-time feedback as opportunities emerge. Better yet, you can return the favour when they want to make progress on their own development agenda.
- Depending on your focus, key clients can be a valuable ally in advancing certain development priorities. If, for example, you want to strengthen accountability within your team, feedback from key clients on major deliverables shouldn’t just focus on the end results, but also on key aspects of their service experience.
- Clients can also provide a valuable testing ground for new or different behaviour away from your own organizational culture. Quite often, established expectations and processes in your own company can reinforce existing behaviour rather than allow something different.
5.) External Coach
- Engaging an external coach to help implement desired changes will almost surely make the journey somewhat less daunting. Coaches can help you share challenges, ask insightful questions, and review the pros and cons of various options.
- Coaches who understand not only your leadership challenges, but also your business challenges, will likely be the most effective. Most leadership challenges are nestled in the context of your business so this added insight will accelerate successful change and implementation.
Advancing your development agenda, particularly as a senior leader, need not be a solo endeavor. If you reach out, there are competent, willing and trusted partners who can meaningfully assist you in your journey to improved effectiveness.