Create Your Safety Net Through Feedback Conversations
Don’t get caught walking the High Wire without a safety net! Women leaders need a large, dynamic, and flexible network ready to support them. Yet, this is the very thing most women leaders lack. Cultivating allies, mentors, and sponsors is a key part of every leader’s job.
One of the most powerful strategies we recommend is enlisting frequent, regular, and candid feedback from folks at work. Direct, two-way communications will give you the feedback you require to gain the confidence and awareness leaders need. The conversation itself, when properly managed, can help you resolve conflicts, build trust, and strengthen your relationships. Let your allies become your mentors; let your mentors become sponsors as colleagues, managers, and stakeholders begin to invest in your success.
Back in the 80s, Mayor Koch spent all day, every day asking New Yorkers: “How am I doing?” Koch was far from a model diplomat, yet with that simple habit, he won the affection, trust, and loyalty of his constituency.
Initiating feedback conversations can feel uncomfortable at first, especially in organizations where people shy away from candid interactions.But, it’s even scarier to walk that High Wire with your eyes closed! By seeing yourself as others do, and listening to the advice you receive, you find your balance as a leader. The executives we coach are secretly their toughest critics. They’re moved and surprised by the appreciation they receive once they start asking questions about their leadership. That openness and willingness to learn is what makes leaders authentic. And yes, perhaps you’ll also learn about things you should change. But that’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and make even stronger relationships with the people around you.
Here are some of the simple steps to make feedback a regular part of your day:
1)Start small-Begin by identifying a handful of peers, direct reports, managers, and stakeholders from whom you want feedback. Select four to five individuals and invite them to meet with you for a few minutes to answer a few questions about your leadership.
2)Make it easy- Allow the interaction to be informal and casual. Begin by thanking the person for taking the time to be candid.Have a few, carefully crafted questions to get the conversation started.
4) Keep it short-Limit the conversation to no more than 15-20 minutes, so you keep the door open for future meetings.
4) Be open- Be sure to welcome—and to hear—all suggestions. If something seems off -base to you, thank the person anyway and let them know you’ll think about it carefully. Above all, avoid the “therapy session” trap of venting or disagreeing.
5) Follow up-Within a day or two, call or e-mail the person to let them know how they’ve helped. This will encourage them to continue working with you and make them more invested in your leadership growth.
Once they’re warmed up, you’ll be surprised how much people appreciate being asked those thoughtful questions.
Here are some of the questions our candidates like most. Feel free to use them or craft your own:
- What are the first three words you would use to describe me as a leader?
- What makes me unique?
- What’s something I do that you especially appreciate?
- What’s something different that you’d like to see me do?
- When have you seen me demonstrating leadership? What are examples of my leadership behaviors?
- When have you seen me miss opportunities to demonstrate leadership?
- What’s something unique you see in me?
- What’s a strength in our relationship and how would you like to see our relationship grow or change?
- How can I support you?
- What’s a strength of mine in managing change? (or substitute the word stress)
- What’s a challenge of mine in managing change? (or substitute the word stress)
Listening is one of the most critical skills of business leaders. To find out more about your own leadership style and how colleagues perceive your strengths and weaknesses, start asking questions and then listen. You’ll discover more than you can imagine.
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