Navigating Turbulence: Using Feedback to Smooth the Ride

Without doubt this year is likely going to meet or set new records in terms of turnover within executive ranks. The frequency of CEO turnover, for example, continues to accelerate – driven by incessant demands for better performance in an ever-more challenging business environment. In 2019 for example, the rate for CEO turnover in North America reached an all time high. A leading executive recruitment firm, Challenger, Grey and Christmas estimates over 1640 CEOs of publicly-held companies left their jobs during the year. And this upcoming year, with the challenges of an economy struggling to regain its footing during and beyond the COVID19 pandemic, will be no exception.

feedback groupNo doubt, some of this turnover is due to intentional transition by senior leaders to other opportunities that are more attractive – including lifestyle considerations, new challenges, more attractive growth potential, improved compensation and enhanced career profile. Many of these departures however are related to a loss of trust, for any number of reasons, with key stakeholders most notably the board and/or major investors.

The reasons for this loss of trust are varied, but the most common is a failure of leadership, not business acumen or technical ability. It’s a given that executives must have the right combination of technical and business skills before they step into their roles. What isn’t so clear is the capacity for leadership at the most senior level, particularly in the context of continued turbulence and change.

So, as a leader, what’s the answer? Well, one key success factor is about getting better feedback from people that matter, those whose trust and support are critical to your continued success. Evidence shows a clear correlation between leadership ability and the willingness to ask major stakeholders for feedback.

Very few executives would dispute this fact but many don’t act on it. Some don’t want honest feedback, many don’t ask for it, and most don’t get much of it – unless it’s forced on them. And even if they do want feedback, there’s a key problem. They wield lots of power, so while they may be earnest in their quest for feedback, their direct reports, peers, board members or perhaps even investors aren’t likely to knock on their door and say ‘I’m going to give you some feedback’.

So what are some options, as a senior leader, for getting this much-needed executive feedback?

  • Reach out to colleagues who you trust and who know you well. Ask them to provide insight into key strengths and weaknesses on your leadership style – based on their assessment of how you respond in specific work situations.
  • Tap into your network of peers who work with you on partnerships, external projects, volunteer initiatives or external boards. Get their perspective on how you’re ‘showing up’ as both a contributor and leader in these situations.
  • Identify one or two specific competencies that you believe require improvement or ‘fine tuning’. Get some direct reports, who know they have your support, to provide specific suggestions on how you could make meaningful and impactful improvements.
  • feedbackPractice self-disclosure by sharing one or two fundamental facts about your leadership style and approach with others that you trust. Get their feedback on how well these elements are playing out with them, across the organization and with key external stakeholders.
  • Partner with a coach/consultant who specializes in executive feedback to help you obtain in-depth narrative feedback on how you’re currently viewed by important stakeholders and where there are opportunities to enhance leadership performance and key relationships.

When’s a good time for you or your senior team members to get this independent narrative feedback? Here are some suggestions:

  • You’re in a relatively new role, with about 12 months tenure, and want a meaningful ‘check in’ with your key stakeholders on how you’re doing
  • You’ve got high potential leaders on your senior leadership team who want to identify and confirm next steps in their development
  • You’re undergoing a review process with your board and they want specific feedback regarding your leadership effectiveness beyond the ‘pure’ numbers
  • Regulatory, reporting or fiduciary requirements dictate the collection of key stakeholder feedback as part of your review process
  • You’ve got specific concerns regarding the leadership attributes and actions of an executive team member and want to better understand the dynamics behind the situation

Getting feedback about leadership effectiveness seems to be an obvious course of action for executives. Yet getting accurate, forthright and actionable information can be a challenging process. However, making the effort and being intentional, even through small steps, can make a big difference to success in the longer term.

If you’d like to get a much better picture of your leadership effectiveness, contact me (email [email protected] or call 250-882-8830) for a conversation about how you can immediately improve the quality of executive feedback you currently receive.

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

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