Senior Executives

As a leader, are you open to feedback?

If you’re a leader, it is highly likely you no longer receive regular feedback. While trained in the art of giving feedback to your teams, how do you cope with receiving feedback when the tables are turned?

Feedback from employees and staff less senior to yourself might be sparse because the nature of your job means people are naturally fearful of offering feedback that is not positive.

Receiving feedback, accepting it, and then acting on that feedback to improve is an important characteristic in the development of leaders in business today. It is difficult for people to ask to be criticized and judged, but the benefits it offers are vast.


Leaders who receive feedback are more effective than leaders who don’t

A study from leadership development firm, Zenger Folkman, found that leaders who ask for feedback are considerably more effective than leaders who don’t. Leaders who ranked in the bottom 10 per cent in asking for feedback were rated at the 15th percentile in leadership effectiveness. Conversely, those in the top 10% of asking for feedback from their employees, were ranked in the 86th percentile in overall leadership ability.

Asking for feedback can give leaders insight into their blind spots, ensuring greater self-awareness and a deeper understanding of how they need to improve their performance.

However, it seems that few people really know how to react to the feedback they are given. The reasons for this are often fear of not being good enough or low self-confidence. If someone has gone for a big promotion only to be rejected, do they really want to know why they didn’t get the job?

However, if executives find out where they went wrong, it stands to reason that they can use the information for how they could do better next time. The more senior a person is the more important it is for them to ask for feedback because people don’t tend to offer it to them freely.

Senior executives need to ask the person providing the feedback what they could have done differently, displaying they are not only confident and open, but most importantly, willing to learn from their experiences.

Don’t take it personally

It is important for business leaders to be receptive of the feedback, accept that this is a possible problem and that they can ask further questions. It’s important to understand that feedback is not a personal dig and getting defensive will discourage employees from offering their insights and may lower morale.

Being curious about how others perceive them is a good way for leaders to learn and improve – even if it doesn’t correlate with their own opinions.

Leaders can always validate the feedback by asking for second or third opinions from other trusted people if they are sceptical about the feedback they’ve received from one person.

How to encourage honest feedback

If you’re a leader and you are looking for feedback, bear in mind that people might not give you honest feedback because you are their boss.

But it is important that you do get honest feedback.

Encouraging your staff to give you honest feedback isn’t as simple as asking them to give you honest feedback. Words may not be enough to make your employees feel safe. Instead, we can try some of the following to encourage honest feedback from our employees:

Show mutual respect

Making it clear to your employees that you want their feedback because you value their opinion and need them to help you improve should be a part of your company culture. Employees should regularly be asked to give feedback to their seniors, and it should be made clear that this is because their opinions are valid and that they’ll be taken seriously and acted upon, thus making things better for them in the long run.

Build a no-blame and trustworthy culture

If the culture in your organization is good – if employees feel as though they can make mistakes and own up to them without fear, for example – you are much more likely to receive honest feedback when you ask for it.

Company culture is a set of shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices that define your organization and the atmosphere within your work environments. Company culture permeates through all areas of your work, from your senior members of staff to your customers.

When your culture is right, your employees will absolutely feel as though they can give you honest feedback without fear of retribution.

Developing a strong company culture takes time. If there is toxicity in your workplace, it might take you some time to get this right before you can start asking for feedback.

But it’s important that you do. McKinsey and Company found that organizations with a strong company culture post a return to shareholders 60 percent higher than median companies and 200 percent higher than those whose company culture is rated as not so good.

Receive feedback in person

Your tone of voice and body language are important and will put staff members at ease, plus you can ask people to elaborate. You should most definitely ask your staff members to give you their feedback in person if you want to receive the most honest feedback possible. Once they get used to the process and have given feedback a few times, their honesty is likely to grow, so stick with the process by allowing employees to give feedback on a regular basis until you break down their barriers.

Give employees time

Don’t drag your employees into a meeting and just ask them for feedback. Give your employees advanced notice and allow them enough time to really consider your performance in advance, so that they can work with you for a period of time whilst looking specifically for things you need to improve.

Focus on a few key areas when asking for feedback

Asking for general feedback is a recipe for disaster. Employees might feel overwhelmed and offer ambiguous feedback, which is not the point. You want a few obvious takeaways from your employee in areas where you can improve. Ask them for feedback around your areas of weakness. Perhaps you’ve been told you need to work on your project management, for example, or on your communication skills. Ask your employees for specific feedback on these areas.

If you have difficulty identifying your areas of weakness, an executive coach will help you identify areas you should be exploring for feedback. If you are interested in how they may help you on your leadership journey, you can get in touch with Dr. John Behr.

Dr. John Behr offers one-on-one coaching to improve your strengths and identify your weaknesses and feedback is part-and-parcel of his coaching style. He has worked with numerous Fortune 500 companies across the globe.

For more information about how he can help you in your specific area of work, please fill in the form on the ‘Contact Us’ page.