Articles

Want To Know How You Are Doing As A Leader? Just Ask Your People!

February 06, 2021 - By Josh Hayman, Associate, BA Hons Psychology

Legitimate Leadership believes that if one truly wants to know how a leader is doing, the best judges are the very people who depend on that person for leadership.  We incorporate this principle into our approach to transforming leaders by conducting Leadership Surveys for each participant. These surveys diagnose how the leader is perceived to be aligned to the four key criteria of giving Care, providing Means, cultivating Ability, and holding people Accountable.

The process is of course confidential. It provides leaders with immensely useful feedback – and gives them clarity and focus on where their development opportunities lie.

When discussing this feedback with leaders on our programmes, one of the questions I often ask is how often they themselves ask their people directly for feedback on how they are doing.  The response is not about how often it happens, but more about whether it happens at all.

It always strikes me as such a missed opportunity for leaders to build trust with their people. I insist that they start doing it, and doing it regularly.

Why?  The crux of the Legitimate Leadership framework is whether subordinates perceive their manager to be genuinely concerned about their wellbeing.  It is my view that there are few things that demonstrate this more practically on a day-to-day basis than a leader being genuinely interested in the impact that her words and deeds have on her people.

When I first suggest to leaders that they start doing this, the number one concern is that the leader will not get the truth.  That the answer will be that “everything is fine”.  There is therefore no point in asking unless one uses a confidential process.

It is my view though, that evidence of a genuine relationship of trust between leader and subordinate will be that the leader asks his people for feedback, and they absolutely know with conviction that they get the straight-between-the-eyes truth.  This will only happen when the only consequence for giving the leader honest feedback is a better leader – and people only learn this over time.

This means that if a leader wants to get honest feedback he has to start asking for it regularly and showing he is prepared to do something about it. Building trust through asking for leadership feedback requires far more than just asking the question.

The reason you’re asking for feedback is to give your team better leadership, not to feel good about yourself.  The only consequence of giving you feedback should be a change in leadership behaviour.  Don’t start unless you are prepared to stick to this principle.

When asking for feedback, the following guidelines can be helpful:

  1. Have a theme, and ask each person questions around the same theme, for example: Are our one-on-ones focusing on the right things? Do you find team meetings help you to do your job better? What are the things you need to do your job that you are not getting from me? Do I spend enough time helping you with work-related problems? Directive questions are far more likely to solicit useful feedback than an open-ended “how-am-I-doing” questions.
  2. Whatever feedback you are given, the number one rule is to thank the person for the feedback and convey that you will think about what she has said and decide how to proceed.
  3. Demonstrate willingness to action this feedback.
  4. Decide what specifically you are going to change.
  5. Communicate this clearly to your people, and that you will ask for feedback again on how it is working.
  6. Implement it for while.
  7. Ask for feedback again, and repeat step 2 and 3.
  8. If you decide not to change something or act on feedback given, make it clear why you will not change it.  If appropriate, ask for alternatives. Above all, take responsibility for these decisions. Do not say you can’t change something because your boss/the company/HR won’t allow it. You always have a choice.

The key to starting this process is to accept that you will probably not get the truth initially, and to persevere. One manager I coached in 2016 reported that she spent six months asking for feedback and doing something about it before she really felt she started to get the truth.

This process works to build trust with your people precisely because it practically demonstrates that you are prepared to put your people’s interests ahead of your own.

Josh Hayman
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