I took an Uber ride recently, something I’m sure many of us have done. As I was rating the driver after the trip, I started thinking about how leaders might be different if their team rated them after every interaction. What would that kind of consistent feedback cause most leaders to do differently? Imagine an app where immediately after a coaching session, review, or meeting, a manager could look at their phone and say, “My team gave me a 2 for that meeting.” Or “That employee gave me a 3 on my coaching.” While it’s not likely we would see businesses flock to this style of feedback, it’s very interesting to think about how leaders could benefit from it.
Feedback changes things. Being open to it as consistently and candidly as an Uber driver would probably cause us to dramatically improve as leaders. Or at least understand our areas of opportunity better.
Here are some things you can do to make sure you are getting the feedback you need to continue to grow and develop as a leader:
Ask for feedback in a much better way
When working with teams, I find that managers are frequently wrong about what their team thinks of their leadership. It may be in direction or in degree, but regardless, it’s usually off the mark. Think about leaders who conduct an unsuccessful meeting, coach ineffectively, or fail to inspire or motivate others. Yet they still receive dishonest and inaccurate feedback. How many times have you seen a leader deliver a boring, uninspiring presentation and have someone come up to them and say, “Great job”? As leaders, we rarely get the truth. When we ask for it, we often use questions that set us up for more lies.
Compare these questions:
- Is there anything else I can help you with?
- Please help me think about three ways I can coach you more effectively or more consistently
- How’s everything going?
- What things in your job are you finding the most challenging? How can I help you tackle them?
Two of them are going to get you little or no real feedback. The other two will get you more complete and useable feedback. Left to their own devices, team members don’t share difficult feedback with their boss. Instead, we have to ask questions that insist they give us the help we need to lead more effectively.
Publicly request and genuinely value feedback
During a workshop, I was working with a team whose leader shared that he had received coaching from one of his team members recently. He said one of the things he valued most about that person was their willingness to help him improve as a leader. He praised the team member for caring enough to provide honest feedback. Then he stated to the group he wanted each team member to contribute additional thoughts on how he could be a better leader during their next one-on-one coaching session. When we demonstrate our genuine appreciation for others who help us by sharing candid feedback, we show that the real risk is in being the person who doesn’t tell their boss the truth, not in being the person who does.
Never deflect, defend, or shoot the messenger
No matter how much we say we want feedback, if we punish people who offer it, no one will give it. As it relates to feedback, this is probably the hardest part of leadership. It’s painful to hear you are not as valuable as you thought you were. It’s difficult to learn that the public praise you received was balanced with comments that are far less flattering.
When we get unanticipated negative information, our brains automatically go into fight or flight mode. Because we are human, we start to defend the reasons for our actions. We should have a plan for how to take feedback when we get it. Otherwise we will follow that automatic path and teach others we do not really accept their feedback. We, instead, justify our actions. Create a habit of acknowledging your feedback with responses like “Thank you for sharing. Hearing your thoughts will help me think about ways to improve, grow, and learn.” or “I know that wasn’t easy to share but I appreciate you taking the time to be honest with me.”
Feedback is what happens when your ideas and actions meet the world. When we learn to walk or ride a bike, feedback is falling. In school, feedback comes in the form of grades. When we lead, feedback is often hidden in the perceptions of those around us. When we uncover that feedback, we have signs, guides, maps, and tools that help us continuously pursue something better. We have the ability to become a leader that impacts people, teams, and veterinary medicine in ways that make an incredible difference. Without it, we stagnate, become mediocre, and eventually fall far short of our potential as a leader.