It’s tough at the top — in particular, it’s tough to know how you’re perceived and performing as a leader. There are so many stakeholders and so many differing and competing expectations. A couple of conversations this past week really drove home the challenge top leaders face in trying to get good, actionable feedback.
In the first conversation, a college president lamented the lack of relevant feedback he received in terms of his overall leadership. From his perspective, this knowledge was critical not just for his own career but also for the success of faculty and staff, students, prosperity of the college and reputation within the broader community.
Sources for getting this feedback proved to be less than optimal. Conversations with his leadership team, for example, usually revolved around his response to key challenges or initiatives. Board members, even those working closely with him, offered either very general suggestions or, more likely, spoke about how effectively he was handling key issues that were currently under discussion. His annual review with the board typically focused on his achievement of specific ‘hard’ goals related to funding, enrolment, student experience, etc. Little mention was made of his leadership attributes and presence.
The second conversation, with the board chair of regional financial institution, was about how easily they were able to ‘nail’ the hard measures of performance for their CEO. What was lacking, however, was the ability to provide meaningful feedback on the chief executive’s overall leadership capacity and capability. Informal conversations with board members, as well as members of her own team, proved to be fairly narrow in scope and often based on routinely similar interactions or one-time events.
To remove this ‘cloak of mystery’ there are some specific steps you can put in place:
- Ensure that there’s a clearly defined process in place to provide you with relevant performance feedback. Whether it’s mandated or not, there’s value in getting this information on a regular basis. Ensuring agreement on this process, from major stakeholders (e.g.you, board members, investors) is essential to accuracy, buyin and feedback quality.
- Identify a few key attributes that reflect expectations of you as senior leader. These could include behaviours that support your performance contract and/or role profile; traits that drive key priorities outlined in strategic, business or operating plans; or competencies that influence more intangible factors such employee engagement, brand reputation and long term client satisfaction.
- Go beyond the typical ‘hard’ metrics. Ensure that these few key behaviours and actions, required of you as senior leader, are incorporated into the overall feedback process. Spend some time in confirming, with key stakeholders, what’s truly critical in terms of leadership behaviour, to drive business results. Articulate these key behaviours in clear, simple and observable language.
- To get a good sense of how you actually ‘show up’, solicit feedback from those that have good ‘line of sight’ to your leadership presence across a variety of situations and in different contexts. This diversity of perspectives is essential to realize a wellrounded ‘snapshot’ that captures the ‘real’ you.
- Provide assurance of confidentiality during your collection of feedback from key stakeholders. Use of narrative 360 feedback, for example, is a good way to build trust in the process and obtain high quality feedback..
- Consider adding a developmental aspect to the feedback process. That is, highlight some aspect of leadership behaviour, critical to your performance, that would benefit from further refinement. Identify how progress on the selected attribute would be measured and how your leadership team and key stakeholders can be engaged to support this priority.