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The leader you think you are may not be the leader you actually are. Heightening self-awareness is critical to personal and professional development, but for most of us criticism is hard to take – even when it is born out of self-reflection. But unless you can identify and address the gaps in your own capabilities, you’ll never realise your potential and, in the surprisingly accurate words of arguably the world’s worst leader; David Brent: “Be careful,’cause there’s always someone ready to step into your shoes and do your job better than you do it.”
As leaders, how do we obtain honest feedback and how do we know what to listen to?
Review all of the Evidence. This is an exercise not only in memory, but in extreme honesty. You need to go back through performance reviews, meetings, confrontations, comments made face to face or via email; any exchange where somebody said something constructive or negative about your performance. Also consider things such as how many people have left your team/s whilst you have been leader, what were their reasons for leaving? Research conducted by Gallup revealed that 17.5% of people leave their job directly because of their managers, with around 75% leaving because of factors that can be directly influenced by their leader. Is this you? Consult colleagues, direct reports and HR – explain that you’re working on self-development and are looking for feedback. Whilst the feedback you receive doing this may not always be entirely open, (particularly from colleagues and direct reports), it provides you with a good starting point.
Do not filter – Listen to everything. “He never has anything positive to say about anyone”, “We never did get on anyway” and “She’s not been at the company long enough to know” are the types of justifications we provide ourselves with when we don’t like the feedback we hear. I remember my very first 360º, I hastily dismissed the comments of one colleague to my leader as him just “not liking me”. He had commented that I used email too much for issues that could better be resolved in face to face communication. Priding myself as someone who would always rather speak to someone than send an email, it was easy for me to devalue these comments. However, on reflection, perhaps because I felt he disliked me, I did use email with him more than I should? The key point here is to listen to all of the feedback and do not attach a level of importance or value to the comments; if somebody said that about you, then they thought it about you and only you can address that. In the words of Winston Churchill; “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
Don’t Take it Personally. For many, this is the hardest part. We all want to be liked and negative feedback can threaten this. So, think about the facts;
1. None of us are perfect.
2. All of us have things which we could improve.
3. If you stopped to think about it, you could come up with a list of constructive feedback for each and every person you work with.
4. You are no different to them.
Constructive feedback is what allows us to develop and grow, it provides us with objectivity, which is something that, despite our best efforts, we can never truly obtain through self-reflection.
Get a Coach. OK, so this one’s not an option for all of us. Coaching heightens self-awareness and has been show to improve an individual’s performance in a number of areas. Unlike feedback from a colleague, the confidential coaching environment allows for issues to be discussed, without fear of consequence for either party. This allows for the kind of objective, honest feedback that it is hard to obtain anywhere else.
360º Assessments. Whether you are able to employ the services of a coach or not, 360º Assessments are one of, if not, the best tool for gaining feedback. Because 360º Assessments are completed by colleagues from different levels of the organisation you gain an understanding of how you are perceived and rated at every level. It is not uncommon for leaders to be perceived differently by those they lead as those that they report into. The anonymous nature of 360º’s allows people to really open up in a way they may well feel uncomfortable doing ordinarily, the more anonymous an individual feels, the more honest they are with their responses.
Heightening self-awareness and gaining open and honest feedback is difficult whatever the resources available to you. As a leader, all you can do is take on board all of the information you do have and perhaps develop a thicker skin! Even more important is to do something with the feedback. So often, organisations distribute 360º’s, but then fail to do anything with the results. If you really want to enhance your leadership capabilities, be more effective and heighten your chances of career progression then you need to take a good, long hard look in the mirror.