Over the weekend, I went to a meal out celebrating the 60th birthday of one of my wife’s ex-colleagues. During the evening, he spoke to me privately about the impact my wife had on his life over the 15+ years as his boss. He was fulsome in his praise for Lesley and complimented her on many of her leadership qualities. It was a pleasure to hear such great feedback.
On our way home, I shared his feedback with my wife and she was very moved by it. Our conversation started me thinking about feedback and how valuable it is. I know, from experience, that it is often quite difficult to know just whether you are leading the right way or not. That is why I have always advocated asking for feedback from your team. It takes some courage and there is always a degree of risk, but if you are doing the right thing, how much risk can there be?
I remember one such conversation at my surprise farewell party in Sunderland in 2003. I’d been Head of Service for over seven years and a large group of staff, colleagues, and partners from various agencies were present. During the evening, one of my staff took me to one side and asked if she could share some thoughts with me privately. Naturally I agreed and she then proceeded to tell me that one of my greatest qualities, in her opinion, had been my decisiveness. “ Mind you!”, she added, “You made some shit decisions!”
It was a wonderful moment. We both burst out laughing and then hugged. I laughed so hard I cried. I still cherish her feedback and that moment. I was delighted she felt able to share. For me, it was the culmination of a long relationship we had developed over several years, during which I had regularly sought feedback and encouraged her and the rest of the staff team to engage that way. Thinking about it now, it mirrored the relationship we had developed and I still smile to this day when I think about that moment.
Unfortunately, my experience also tells me that too few people actively seek feedback. I’ve taught many leadership courses over the past thirteen years. At each one, I’ve always asked the question, “Who thinks they are a good leader?” I’ve invariably followed this up with the question, “How do you know?”
It is a straightforward question. The answer, however, regularly eluded participants. The majority assumed they were good leaders because no-one had ever told them they were not. Of course, this doesn’t generally happen, does it? What might we expect as an answer to the question, “When was the last time a staff member told you that your leadership was poor?” It is ironic though true that for all kinds of reasons, most typically because of the power dynamic in the relationship, that feedback is just not given.
As a leader, I believe we should actively seek feedback on a regular and consistent basis. We should give permission to our team members to be open and honest with us. Otherwise, how else will we learn and then have to means to improve?
What so you think? How actively do you seek feedback? Do you need some support to develop the skills of giving and receiving feedback?
If so, I can help. Just give me a call or drop me a line.