LEADERSHIP FEEDBACK: The Higher You Go, The More Generic it Gets
Have you ever had trouble getting feedback on your leadership effectiveness? Getting people to tell you honestly how you are coming across in your leadership interactions is one of the hardest tasks a leader has. Part of the issue is that as a high-level leader you might not ask for feedback, and when you do, the input you get is generic because of your position. Despite the considerable research showing a link between self-awareness and individual performance, managers take few opportunities to get feedback from others, and their self-image can become skewed.
People are reluctant to provide negative or honest feedback to higher-level managers and executives for a variety of reasons. That reluctance can leave you sheltered from valuable information to improve both you and your organization’s excellence. You end up thinking things are fine and in reality they are less than excellent, perhaps because you are unaware of certain issues. There is an old song entitled, Free Little Bird and the lyrics start out:
“Gonna build my nest in a high oak tree where no one can ever bother me.”
I recently received a call about Sarah, an executive in charge of a large sales organization. Sarah had been in the role for 11 months and the CEO of the company was concerned about a number of complaints that had filtered up to his level. In discussing the issue with Sarah, she admitted to having the “normal” disagreements with staff, but she assured me that her overall image and connection with her staff was very positive. Sales were beyond budgeted revenues.
At my suggestion, she agreed to have a 360-degree feedback study compiled on her leadership. The results of the study allowed Sarah to see that there were significant areas of difference between her leadership self-awareness and how others viewed her leadership.
Research in a 2003 leadership study entitled Executive Blind Spots demonstrated that higher-level executives are likely to have an inflated view of their emotional intelligence competency. This research contradicted earlier research that indicated high-performing individuals tend to have a more accurate self-perception.1 More importantly, the 2003 results indicate that not all upper-level managers see themselves as others do, and therefore may not be performing at their highest capacity.
There are three steps you can take to alleviate this possible problem:
- Ask your direct reports to tell you three things you can change about your leadership to improve the functioning of your team. Make notes as they talk, thank them for the feedback, and commit to getting back to them on what you will do with their feedback.
- Engage an outside professional to interview key members of your staff to highlight your leadership strong points, the weaker point of your leadership, and some advice for moving your leadership to a higher level of excellence.
- Share the feedback results with your team in a manner that is appropriate. Develop an action plan from the feedback and publish it so that people will recognize the changes you are making.
What results will you achieve? Well, in addition to the specific feedback you may receive, you will begin the process of opening a line of communication that may not currently exist. People will start to get the message that you are serious in your effort to become a better leader and they will “climb the tree” to give you the information to do so.
Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research