The need for relevant and timely feedback is so obvious, it’s a foundational ingredient for learning and growth for people in all walks of life. My experience, however, has uncovered a real discrepancy in the ability of leaders to ‘give’ versus ‘get’ relevant, meaningful and timely feedback.
Frequently, as part of the narrative 360 feedback that I provide to senior leaders, there is a big gap between a leader’s willingness and ability to provide feedback to others and their willingness, effort and ability to accept feedback on their overall performance. In many cases, particularly at the executive level, leaders don’t actively seek regular feedback from others, which creates significant missed opportunities for meaningful personal and organizational improvement.
With that in mind, here are six key steps on how to find more balance and seek more input:
- Actively seek out feedback: Leaders of all types should regularly look for opportunities to obtain feedback from others so they have a ‘heads up’ on what’s working well and what could be improved. Any situation that involves others is a good one in which to solicit feedback – team or board meetings, presentations, planning sessions, new product launches, etc.
- Set the stage: Be crystal clear with others about why you’re seeking feedback – to learn, strengthen your skills and improve your performance for the next time. Demonstrate an open and sincere desire to receive this input – including that which is difficult or awkward. Avoid using positional authority or influence to coerce others into providing relevant feedback – it rarely succeeds in getting useful or truthful information. Make the provision of feedback a willing, voluntary action by others.
- Prepare yourself: Adopt a learning mindset – be curious about how others perceive situations, activities and events. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable and be prepared to receive unfavorable information that may challenge your perceptions, assumptions or self-image.
- Strive for clarity and understanding: Actively listen to others as they provide feedback. Utilize paraphrasing, ask open-ended questions and summarize your sense of what’s being conveyed. Look ‘beyond the wrapping’ around the feedback message and focus on the real essence of what’s being said. Avoid defensiveness at all costs – just listen and try not to respond right away.
- Offer thanks: Recognize that relevant feedback is a gift, and sincerely thank the provider for the information shared. Summarize again why you initially sought out the feedback and how you appreciate what’s been provided to you. Indicate your sense of next steps – even if it’s just to mull over and consider what you’ve heard.
- Act on the feedback: If the feedback resonates, set some sort of gauge to let you know you’re making progress in growing a new skill, making the necessary change in behaviour or adjusting your approach. Ensure you get additional ‘course correcting’ feedback along the way. Consider engaging trusted colleagues as informal coaches to provide feedback and let you know how you’re doing.
Giving and getting feedback needs to be a balanced effort. Many leaders, especially those at more senior levels, need to be more active in reaching out to get feedback regarding their behaviours, actions and activities. Consider implementing these recommended steps so you, too, can fully benefit from the immense value of relevant, timely feedback.