Brenda's Blog

All articles from July, 2017

Why You Probably Aren’t Getting Enough Feedback… and What To Do About It: Self-Leadership Challenge #15

Management guru Ken Blanchard often quotes his friend, Rich Case, as saying, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” If that is the case, how often and how well are YOU™ being fed?

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If you’re like most leaders I’ve met in my executive coaching practice, you aren’t getting enough regular feedback. That’s why the best self-leaders ask for feedback regularly. If no one is offering you feedback because of your heightened position, or if you don’t feel you’re getting honest opinions that you can use, you have to take the initiative to go after it. There’s simply no better way to excel in your current position and accelerate your career.

Of course, asking for feedback may not be something you love to do. Let’s face it: It can be somewhat painful to learn about your shortcomings, even if there are only relatively small issues that need improvement. But the other reality to face is that not accepting criticism can cause your career to come to a crashing halt. So, it becomes a matter of trading off the long-term pain of a career that isn’t reaching its full potential for the short-term potential pain of a little constructive criticism. That feedback could ultimately help you move forward and perhaps even help you reach heights beyond what you thought possible.

Once you know what needs improvement, you’re then armed with the information you need to move forward. There’s a certain excitement from developing your self-leadership skills and getting better at your job. It’s almost guaranteed to rejuvenate you and give you renewed energy in your position … if you let it.

Why Don’t Leaders Seek More Feedback?

Despite the known benefits of getting input from others, too many executives continue as usual without getting enough feedback about their performance. Why is that? These are the five main reasons I’ve seen. Do you recognize yourself in any of these?

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  1. As you climb higher, you become less coachable.
  2. You let your ego/pride stop you from getting feedback.
  3. You’re concerned that the feedback you do get won’t be genuine.
  4. The feedback received doesn’t come from the right people.
  5. You’re content to just continue on as you’ve always done, as long as nothing appears to be wrong.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Feedback

The bottom line: It’s critical at all levels of an organization to get feedback from others. Here are some do’s and don’ts that will assist you in getting feedback you can truly use:

Do make it clear to feedback providers that you’re sincere and want their remarks to be honest. Encourage them to be candid, and let them know that’s exactly the kind of input you’re looking for.

Do ask for feedback from coworkers at different levels from within the organization—your boss, your subordinates, key peers, and colleagues. They might have varying perspectives on your work and your behaviors, so getting all of their opinions will help you see a multitude of viewpoints from a “surround-sound” perspective. That can help you grow in different ways.

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Do say “thank you” when someone shares feedback with you—and that’s all you need to say, whether you agree with what you heard or not. This holds especially true if they offered perceived “negative” inputs. If you’re not the sort of person who’s good at taking criticism, there’s nothing wrong with “rehearsing” ahead of time. Try to anticipate the points people might tell you, and prepare yourself emotionally to react well. You don’t need to commit to making a change on the spot; you can decide what to do with the feedback later. Just thank your feedback provider, genuinely, and remember that they’ve given you information you can use. View it as a gift – because it is.

Do listen closely, and take notes on what is said. Don’t try to remember your feedback providers’ remarks in your head because if you’re feeling any emotion or anxiety, no matter how prepared you think you are, your mind will likely get cluttered. Plus, when the person sees you writing down their remarks, they’ll be convinced you really are sincere about getting honest feedback. And it will be helpful, later, to have your notes in front of you as you review the inputs and plan what to do with them.

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Do devise an anonymous questionnaire if you think you might not get genuine feedback any other way. Again, those who hold very top positions may find it difficult to persuade subordinates to speak with honesty or to criticize “the boss” in any way. Your own comfort level might even be enhanced if you can ask questions in writing. Design the questions in whatever format will suit your purposes: You can write questions that require simple “Yes” or “No” answers, or those that rate you on a scale of 1-6 or 1-10. Or you can combine these styles, even asking a few “narrative” questions, e.g., to write a sentence or a paragraph in response. You’ll be able to see which types of questions bring the most useful information and remember that for future surveys.

Do hire a coach to interview selected colleagues and subordinates if you think those feedback providers might be too intimidated to give you straightforward inputs directly. Have the coach assure the feedback providers that their comments will be kept completely anonymous. Their responses will almost certainly be more forthright if they know that no one will share “who said what” with the feedback recipient.

Do create questions that correspond to specific key self-leadership qualities or skills that you want to improve. Here are a few suggestions—you can pick and choose—but always try to start off with “positive” input questions (e.g., the first two below) as people are generally open to sharing opportunities to improve inputs once they’ve had a chance to share positives first.

  • What would you say are the top three things that I am doing well (what should I continue doing)?
  • What would you like me to start doing?
  • What would you like me to stop doing?
  • What do I do too much?
  • What do I do too little?
  • What do you need from me that I haven’t been providing?
  • How could I communicate better?
  • What could I do to help improve overall productivity?
  • If you were in my position, what would you suggest I do differently compared to what I’m doing now?
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Don’t make your request too open-ended by saying something like, “Give me feedback, please.” People won’t know what to say, and they’ll likely be lost trying to figure out what you’re looking for. But if you ask them specific questions, such as those from the list above, you will probably end up with very useful inputs that can drive tangible strategies for improving your performance and strengthening your self-leadership skills.

Don’t ask for feedback from colleagues or direct reports when they are in a group. I once witnessed a CEO who did this. Instead of asking his staff for feedback one-on-one, he surprised them in a group meeting with the question, “Okay, let’s get it out on the table now: How am I doing?” Later, many of the direct reports told me they felt “ambushed.” Most of them glanced down at their hands and said nothing. Only one person in the meeting had the courage to tell the CEO what he thought, and guess what happened to that individual? The boss held a grudge against him and didn’t treat him fairly from that moment on.

Don’t get defensive, no matter what kind of feedback you get. You’ve asked people to be honest with you (and you did mean it, right?), so if you don’t accept the criticism gracefully, there’s a good chance they will never offer honest feedback again. Just think about the CEO in the above example—if you had been in that meeting, can you imagine ever offering him honest feedback again? No way. So, he will become yet another senior-level executive who will never find out what people really think of him, simply because he was too insecure to accept genuine criticism. Of course, that kind of insecurity goes strongly against the grain of self-leadership. It’s extremely important to train yourself to keep silent and listen actively while receiving feedback.

For more self-leadership tips, pick up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

How to Successfully Manage Up to Your Boss and Across to Your Peers: Self-Leadership Challenge #14

A potential new executive coaching client, Ethan, came to my office one day, confused and distressed due to the results of his 360-degree feedback report.

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The good news was that his direct reports adored him. “Best boss ever!” one had written. Another gushed, “I love coming to work because I get to work for him!” They described him as open-minded, friendly, sincere, a good listener, firm when he needs to be, a boss who clearly communicates his objectives, and then follows up effectively. Without a doubt, Ethan was doing things right when it came to leading his team.

The not-so-good news came from two other sources—first, from Ethan’s two bosses, one direct and one dotted line. These two superiors saw him in a completely different way, evidenced by their critical comments. Here are just a few examples:

  • Lacks initiative
  • Lacks visibility
  • Doesn’t facilitate discussions
  • Doesn’t offer visionary ideas or examples
  • Needs to be more tenacious
  • Doesn’t lead from the front
  • Needs to develop a broader network among his peers and next-level managers

The second source of not-so-good feedback news came from Ethan’s peers who were equally critical:

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  • Should get involved more
  • Needs to hold discussions to resolve matters
  • Doesn’t engage the broader group
  • Has unclear objectives
  • Communicates poorly
  • Doesn’t get enough support to make things happen
  • Shows a lack of ownership

Ethan was shocked and upset with the results. “How can the outcomes amongst the three groups be so different?”

I asked Ethan to reflect on how much time he spent—in any given week—with direct reports vs. his boss and/or peers. He paused for a second, and then responded, “Come to think of it, I probably spend about 95% of my time with my direct reports.”

The “penny dropped,” as they say, and Ethan realized he was spending much less time managing “up and across,” which automatically meant that his bosses and his peers simply didn’t see him in action all that much. The feedback was a clear indication that Ethan wasn’t managing all of his stakeholders with the same level of focus.

I have seen this challenge with multiple coaching clients. When you are at the mid-level of an organization, you are learning how to get results from the individuals and teams you supervise. So, it’s understandable that, up to that point, you would focus on “managing down.” After all, early in your career, leading staff is a major factor in your success; it helps you get promotions, raises, and gain status and a good reputation within the organization.

But that isn’t how it works as you move up to higher positions in an organization. With increasing necessity, balancing time with all stakeholders becomes more critical. Indeed, managing superiors and same-level colleagues—managing up and across—becomes just as important to your career as managing down. Let’s explore this common gap in a senior leader’s self-leadership arsenal.

Managing Across to Peers: How “Connected” Are YOU™?

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Two of my coaching clients, Joelle and Hritesh, were partners in the same law firm. Their styles and priorities were vastly different: Joelle consistently built her internal network, taking time for peer lunches, connecting with fellow partners for dinners, and setting aside work for five-minute chats with colleagues in the office. She also took time to connect people in her network with each other, helping them build their own networks and relationships. In short, she demonstrated good self-leadership when it came to managing across.

Hritesh’s focus, however, was primarily external, and he spent the bulk of his time keeping clients satisfied and bringing in business. He didn’t really see the importance of building internal relationships—after all, he had cases and files to move off his desk, and there never seemed to be enough hours in the day for anything else.

Both partners brought in roughly the same amount of revenues, and for a while, they were at the same level in the firm’s organizational structure. But within just three years, Joelle had advanced very quickly, catapulting herself up not just one, but two levels higher within the firm. Hritesh, on the other hand, remained in the same post despite his aspirations to move up. His one central mistake: He hadn’t built solid internal relationships.

It isn’t uncommon for people to reach levels close to the C-Suite and not make it to the highest levels of the organization because of one thing: They didn’t cultivate positive relationships with their peers on the way up. So, learning to manage across is a very important self-leadership skill. After all, a peer today may become your subordinate – or your boss – tomorrow.

How Do You Coach “Up?”

If you’re like most leaders, you probably think of “coaching” as what you do when you lead and direct others who work for you. But it can also be an extremely effective tool when applied to any relationship, including coaching up to bosses and across to peers. Here are a few tips to follow:

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 1.  One of the best techniques for coaching up and across—that is, for guiding bosses and peers to new, more effective behaviors—is to first, make an objective, factual statement, and then ask powerful, open-ended questions that are aimed toward the big-picture, higher-level arena within the organization. It takes a bit more time and creativity than simply telling bosses and peers what’s on your mind, but asking good, strategic, open-ended questions builds relationships, trust, and transparency and can have positive, long-lasting effects.

By open-ended questions, I mean questions that don’t elicit a one-word “yes” or “no” response but require the other person to elaborate. By asking and not telling, you will get others to pause, reflect, grow, and come up with answers.

2.  Pick the right time. Neither you, your superior, or your peer should be in a rush or tired at the end of a long day.

3.  Get into a good frame of mind. Approach the conversation with curiosity. You’re here to explore, so don’t go into the discussion attached to a specific desired outcome or expectation.

4.  Get out of the “me vs. you” mindset, and rise up into “we.” Ask yourself:  What positive outcomes can come from this conversation that will not just help us work together more effectively, but will support the overall objectives of our team, our function, and the company?

5.  Prepare—and practice out loud—the words you want to say until they sound natural and you feel comfortable.

As you can see, self-leadership requires that you make a conscious effort to regularly manage up to your boss and across to your peers.

Reflect… Are you spending enough time with each of your various stakeholder groups?  Assess your current situation, and devise a plan to start managing more effectively up and across within the next two weeks.

For more self-leadership tips, pick up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.