As an executive coach, some of the saddest moments I witness is when someone gets feedback…too late. “I was shocked” said one leader to me recently. “It felt like a kick in the stomach coming from someone I trusted”. Her voice cracked as she said this to me and it was clear she was trying to contain her emotion. This leader had been recently asked to take a demotion. Lack of honest feedback is the biggest career de-railer I know of. We each have blind spots and feedback illuminates them.
I am a big believer that we each come from a place of good intentions. No supervisor walks in the office thinking “today I will be a jerk” and no direct report decides “today I will ignore all the signals that something may be wrong”. Yet, this is what I witness all too often: supervisors who don’t give feedback directly enough and direct reports who aren’t paying attention to the cues that something may be wrong. Incredible as it sounds, l see insufficient feedback as an improvement opportunity in 100% of my executive coaching engagements. It costs organizations millions in lost talent, productivity, trust, and engagement. Read on for five steps to get the feedback you need.
Why don’t we give and get honest, direct feedback? Giving and receiving tough feedback is uncomfortable. The giver doesn’t want to hurt feelings or deal with uncomfortable emotions. The receiver may not want to confront news that they are not performing to expectations. I say this with humility as I’ve been on both sides of this, and at one point in my career had to confront the shock of a demotion myself. What I learned from this experience is that I had ignored all the signals, and the greatest impact of this was on me!
So here are five steps to ensure that you’re getting the feedback you need. Please share this with others in your organization and network (including those you would like to exchange feedback with).
Five Steps to Get Feedback
1) Create a mindset for yourself and your team that feedback is a gift. As cliché as that sounds, changing mindset about feedback is the first step to reduce everyone’s blood pressure around giving and receiving it. All good feedback conversations have one simple goal: to help the individual grow in their self-awareness and be more successful. The truth is that we cannot change a person without their consent. We can give them information that will be helpful for them. From there it is up to the person to decide. This takes the pressure off the giver and the receiver of the feedback.
2) Ensure that all feedback starts with strengths. In my executive coaching work, I am often surprised at how little people know about what strengths help them be successful – and this is truly a waste of talent. Ask the feedback giver what helps you be successful in achieving the results you’ve achieved. You may be tempted to spend less time on strengths. Don’t let humility get in the way of really knowing yourself and your impact.
3) Dig deep for examples of behaviors. Ask the feedback giver for context. Don’t settle for “you’re a good communicator”. Ask probing questions such as “When did you see me doing that well?”. Equally, don’t settle for “You need to develop more executive presence”. Ask “what behaviors do you see in others that are examples of good executive presence?” Do your best to be curious rather than defensive.
4) Reach out to your boss, peers, and direct reports to create a 360-degree feedback loop. Get feedback from anyone who you’ve worked with and impacted, both inside your team and outside. Even if your organization doesn’t have formal year-end 360 feedback, meet informally with colleagues to get their input.
5) Reach out to the “difficult” relationships. Inevitably, leaders I talk to who have been shocked by feedback, are able to remember signals they had ignored that had made them feel uncomfortable. They noticed tension in the relationship. The person was avoiding them. They were left out of key meetings. Each of us has colleagues where the working relationship has tension. In my book, Wired for Authenticity I devote a whole chapter to “Face the Dragon” – practices to face the fear and discomfort and do what needs to be done. Remember, the “difficult person” probably feels that same tension. Reaching out for feedback will help to restore greater trust in the relationship. This is one of my bigger regrets in my career. Don’t let it be yours.
What’s next is up to you. What’s at stake for you is your career and growth as a leader. Will you take action?
This blog post first appeared on my Forbes leadership blog.