The Art of Feedback

Good leaders become great leaders by actively seeking out the feedback of their team and implementing changes to reflect that feedback. Self-reflection takes courage and humility and provides a springboard for personal and professional growth. But you can;t practice self-reflection in a bubble. As hard as it can often be to hear, you need to seek out what others’ experiences of you have been and what they feel are your strengths and weaknesses. To throw a bit of philosophical wisdom to this argument, in the words of Aristotle; “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom“; and Socrates “the unexamined life is not worth living“. 

But before you get carried away with creating the new year resolution of getting some feedback from your team and sending off an email or casually asking for feedback on your leadership, here are some suggestions on creating a thoughtful strategy around your feedback process to ensure you do it right. 

Why is feedback important?

There are numerous reasons feedback is essential for leaders to improve, but a few of the most important reasons are; 

  • It creates a culture that encourages self-reflection, growth and continuous improvement, both at an individual and an organisational level. 
  • It provides the opportunity to collect information on how you show up as a leader, what your strengths are, discover blind spots and areas for improvement and provide further insight on what you can do differently to be a better, more effective leader
  • It creates an opportunity for employees to think of new and better ways of doing things, generate new ideas
  • It strengthens relationships – it builds trust and rapport, encourages greater accountability, and strengthens engagement as people feel valued and heard. 

Method for getting feedback 

There are many ways you can gather feedback from your team, but if you look at it as an exercise in collating qualitative data then you need to create some structured processes around your feedback collection. 

A good approach is for a leader to nominate a small group of people (including their direct manager and a mix of direct reports and peers, maximum five people) in which to interview with the hope of collecting constructive feedback on themselves. It is particularly helpful if there is a third party to facilitate this feedback so that all parties are encouraged and not deterred from giving honest and constructive feedback. This third party person can then conduct the interviews either face to face or via a questionnaire that can be filled out (sometimes a mix of both is a good idea).

In the meantime, the leader can complete their own self-assessment, focussing on their strengths and what they could do better and what areas they feel are needing some attention and growth. Once the external feedback is collected, it can then be debriefed back to the leader by the third party individual in a face to face session.  

Of course, much thought needs to be given to the interview/ questionnaire questions in order to get the most thorough and useful feedback for facilitating meaningful insight and areas for change. Interviewees need to be given adequate time to prepare for the session, they need to be given enough information on the objectives for the session (so they are encouraged to be upfront and recognise the feedback they give wil be put to good use).

Questions should be focussed on:

  1. what do you like most about their leadership? What are the person’s strengths as a leader – what value do they add to you and your team?
  2. How do they deal with uncertainty and perform under stress?
  3. How do they balance the team and larger organisational objectives?
  4. How do they manage conflicting situations like differing options 

Once these questions are given, the interviewer should brush up on the art of active listening; using such techniques as active listening, paying attention to body language and non-verbal cues, asking probing questions and ensuring they are fully present for the meeting without distractions, digging deeper on feedback given by asking for examples or asking “”what” and “how” questions. The interviewer should also avoid interrupting, asking multiple questions at once and being distracted by things such as technology. 

How can you be a better leader in 2024? If you and your team want to kick off the year on the right foot, get in touch today, I’d love to help.

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