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Leadership Thought #199 – Encourage Constructive Feedback

Many leaders often have a hard time getting real honest feedback about their performance.  There are many reasons for this, but fear is usually the primary obstacle.  Most people have a hard time commenting critically to others who have the ability to directly influence their work situation.  While some leaders I’ve met through the years certainly justify this fear, the majority of them would much rather hear the truth (or someone else’s version of it) rather than walk around in a bubble with no contrary view of reality.  They are smart and self-confident enough to know this is important.  They also know it is happening anyway just indirectly or behind their backs.

As a leader you have to model the behavior you want to see and take steps to change this dynamic:

  • First, this means actually asking for feedback and encouraging different points of view;
    • When challenged don’t slip into defensive or explanatory mode but rather become inquisitive and seek to understand the other position
    • When you are wrong, accept it and admit it
  • Personally acknowledge you don’t have all the answers, but commit yourself and your team to asking the right question to get at the best solutions
  • Commit to hiring and promoting people on your management/leadership team who are smarter than you and push them to push you
    • avoid/fire sycophants and “yes men”
  • Encourage constructive conflict in your management meetings although keep the conflict focused on the issue not the personalities
  • Establish a continuous quality improvement mindset throughout the organization where work teams and individuals are expected to challenge the status quo and report back their results
    • Reward people who get better results and change what’s not working
  • Create institutional vehicles that establish regular two way communicationwith the field or front lines (this includes both employees and customers) and acknowledge and then act on the information
    • Anonymous survey instruments seem to work best with employees
    • Employee and customer focus groups are also effective
  • Seek out a coach, mentor and/or peer group that will  provide objective feedback and push you to achieve the results you set out to achieve

To some extent those in positions of authority will have to always deal with the power dynamic related to their position.   Power can be exercised in many ways, but is most effective when it is used judiciously to create an environment of accountability, trust and honesty.  High performing leaders always strive to achieve the best outcomes regardless of who gets challenged and/or who gets the credit.


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