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A Key Leadership Competency: Asking for Feedback

A mentor of mine once told me, “you’re only as good as the questions you ask,” and after 20 years of executive coaching and 25 years at the helm of my own company, I agree. Asking for feedback, and asking for it often, is one of the key competencies of effective leaders.

I recently asked 30 leaders how often they ask for and receive feedback from their direct reports and peers, as well as their direct manager. What I found was that the leaders who were seen as the most successful were those who asked for feedback most often.

Here are three benefits that asking for constructive feedback can create.

  1. Increases Respect One of the best ways to make someone feel valued is to ask their opinion about something. Since a key part of a leader’s job is to give input on how others, whether it be an employee, a peer, or the company, can improve, it’s only fair to give others an opportunity to reciprocate.

  2. Builds Dialogue and Trust A note of caution when asking for feedback is to be prepared for hearing something about yourself that might “sting.” Cultivating a mindset of genuinely searching for ways to improve, and of looking for practical tips that you can implement, can help overcome the negative emotions here. Focus on being receptive rather than defensive as you react to what’s being communicated. And remember that by demonstrating that you can handle critique and not lose control of your emotions, you help build a solid foundation of trust with those around you.

  3. Enables Continuous Improvement When it comes to personal growth and development, as the saying goes, “we don’t know what we don’t know.” But if we are made aware of what we don’t know, then we can use that newfound knowledge to make real change.

Here are some tips to help you gather feedback effectively.

Create a Safe Environment

Many leaders tell me that they don’t get meaningful feedback when they ask their direct reports and/or peers. This indicates a need to build trust and set up a safe environment for this type of conversation.

I consider seeking feedback on how to improve as a leader to be a crucial conversation. As such, one of the keys to a crucial conversation is a safe environment in which the conversation can occur.

Start Small Start small to create an environment where the risk level is low for the giver of the feedback. For example, after a manager’s meeting, ask how they perceived your actions, behavior, and the value that you brought to the meeting.

Ask for Specifics

Ask about specific behaviors, patterns, communication style, tone, body language, actions, decisions, and events.

Actively Listen

Your role when asking for feedback is to listen, not to analyze immediately and/or be defensive. This only decreases the likelihood of the person giving feedback in the future (because it damages trust).

At the end of the discussion, the leader should thank the feedback giver for their insight. The other person will feel heard and valued, increasing trust and encouraging more feedback in the future.

Reflect and Evaluate

Once the feedback has been received, leaders must spend time thinking through the meaning and implications of the feedback received. Leaders should consider:

  • What did they learn about themselves?

  • What other questions do they need to ask, and of whom?

Take Action

Just as when companies conduct employee surveys, leaders need to be ready to start working on the feedback they received. Taking action is important because it communicates to those who shared the feedback that the leader values their perspectives.

The role of the leader has now evolved to one who must inspire and engage their teams. The most effective way to learn and grow, while inspiring teams, is by creating a trusting environment where feedback is part of everyone’s learning and growth.

Examples of Questions Leaders Can Ask

  • What do I need to stop doing as your leader?

  • What do I need to start doing as your leader?

  • What do I need to continue doing as your leader?

  • Do you see me working in a respectful manner to others?

  • Do you see me consider other team members’ opinions before making a decision?

  • Do you see me effectively solving problems?

  • Do you see me being responsive to the team’s needs and questions?

  • How do you see me work well under pressure?

  • Do I provide a clear vision that aligns with the organization’s objectives?

Requesting feedback is a prerequisite for providing feedback. You may have the right to provide feedback by virtue of your position; but showing that you want feedback gives you emotional permission to provide feedback to others—and demonstrates that feedback is truly important to you.


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