Great leaders are open to hearing feedback

I once worked for a CEO named Bob Baker who was a terrific leader. He was great about providing feedback – immediate, focused, balanced, forward-leaning feedback – to anyone who demonstrated a willingness to learn and grow. He clearly saw the value of feedback as a way to improve his team’s performance and help us all get better. But he took it one step further; he wanted to get feedback as much as he gave feedback.

questionsWhenever he’d finish a presentation he’d ask for questions – and feedback. Of course when the boss talks most people just shut up and listen. But that didn’t work for Bob — he wanted feedback. So his rule was that no one could leave until he got at least three questions or comments. He wasn’t content to deliver a great presentation and walk out. He knew that no matter how great a communicator he was, there were always things people wouldn’t understand or questions he didn’t answer. He didn’t want to leave those questions unspoken, so he forced them out.

Sometimes, people might ask something goofy or off-topic questions but he always responded to those question with grace and openness. You see, he knew they weren’t being disrespectful – they were afraid. If he was going to get good feedback, he needed to dispel that fear. By answering any question, as goofy as it may have been, he built trust and encouraged the more on-target questions.

Still, he wanted more feedback than he’d get in public. Bob knew that those closest to him, his direct reports, often filtered the information he received. So he reached out throughout the organization and would call folks into his office for one-to-one meetings, or in informal small groups. Again, he communicated clearly that he was looking for feedback – that he wasn’t going to punish anyone who spoke out, and in fact would go to great lengths to protect the identity of anyone who gave him feedback. Once again, these actions built trust. You could see that Bob wanted to be the best; he wanted his team to be as good as it could be, and he wasn’t going to let his ego get in the way.

If you are going to be the best leader that you can be, you need people who can, and will, tell you the truth. You need to know when you’ve put your foot in your mouth, or the subtle ways that you undermine your proposals and ideas. The people who can do it best are right around you – they are your team. Unfortunately it’s their nature to protect you from that. In doing that they are showing you respect, and they are protecting your confidence so that you have the psychic reserves to do the hard work of being the leader. That’s the right thing for them to do, but you need to show them how to do more.

If you are demonstrating to them, by your own behavior, that there is a way to give feedback that is timely, focused, balanced, and points the way forward, then they will gain confidence that they can give you that same feedback in return. They likely won’t volunteer, but you can ask for it. This does not give anyone the license to be disrespectful — just as you aren’t disrespectful when you give your feedback.

Feedback is golden; we need it to help us to get better. We should seek it whenever someone has the courage to offer it to us, especially those who see us every day.

What do you do to encourage feedback from your team members? Have you ever received some really valuable feedback that way?

See also: Giving honest, immediate feedback is a leader’s first job


Speak Your Mind