Many people who have reached the C-Suite may believe they don’t need to learn more about themselves, further, sharpen their leadership skills, or expand their leadership communication skills.
They tend to rationalize like this: “I’m the (CEO, CFO, CMO, or CXO) and know all that stuff.” If they didn’t know the “stuff,” they wouldn’t be where they are.
Even with many years of experience, it is important to know your leadership style and learn what your strengths and blind spots are early on before you can no longer address them or fall victim to them.
Trent Clark, my business partner, has a favorite saying: “You are perceived as you are received.”
No matter what you do, regardless of title and despite years of experience, other people’s perceptions are the reality you have to deal with. Sometimes, these perceptions are wrong, and sometimes, people misread our intentions. Unfortunately, we are judged by our actions and how they are perceived—rightly or wrongly—by those impacted, whether directly or indirectly.
It seems impossible to escape this universal truth. So, we are left with 2 questions to answer about how others see us:
A key to self-awareness and better leadership communication skills is the courage to ask others, “What do you think?”
It’s not easy to do. Commonly, we fear the answers. They might challenge how we view ourselves, our relationships, and/or our decisions. The answers may reveal our shortcomings to others.
Failing to muster the courage to regularly ask colleagues, direct reports, suppliers, board members, and customers for their feedback can lead to overconfidence and arrogance.
Arrogance can take a leader down in many ways, from inappropriate meetings and ill-advised communications to counterproductive – or destructive – management tactics.
How real is this fear, and what are the consequences of arrogance? For answers, look at the importance of feedback in the cases of Enron, Kodak, Nortel, and Blockbuster and U.S. automakers’ response to Japanese imports in the 1980s. In each of these situations, leadership’s failure to ask questions and gather feedback about market conditions and/or client preferences brought a successful business to its knees.
The list of attributes, skills, and qualities on which feedback can be sought is endless. Here are six questions that will help you make the biggest impact sooner:
Considering the answers to these questions can greatly influence your impact. The Center for Creative Leadership notes that “the behaviors that build trust are the very behaviors that manage change.” In other words, to move ahead and innovate, a leader must help establish reciprocal trust.
Finding the courage to ask others, “What do you think?” isn’t enough. The more significant challenge is listening to what others tell you and working with the feedback.
Feedback should be perceived as a gift and used as a roadmap for improving an organization, team, or individual.
No matter what spot you occupy in the organization chart, it’s vital to your effectiveness to hear what you need to hear—not what you want to hear.
Making informed decisions requires that you hear the truth.
In addition to asking for regular feedback in the daily course of business, setting up focus groups, and conducting 360 assessments, here are a few other ideas:
And, of course, a leader should keep an open-door, open-mind policy where feedback is concerned. Employee and stakeholder insights shouldn’t be limited to a specific schedule.
Establish an action plan based on these learnings. Your action plan needs to be limited to 3-5 things you’ll do. It answers a few simple questions in ways that are easy to understand, communicate, and track:
Share the plan with those who provided feedback, monitor any resistance to it, and communicate about it openly and regularly.
Growing and developing as leaders, we need to continuously solicit feedback throughout our careers. Being open to it takes our performance to the next level and enables our organizations to be more successful, viable, and self-sustaining.
We risk being less relevant and resilient when we ignore or fail to learn from feedback. This, in our ever-changing environment, is equivalent to a death sentence.
The only way around this and the only way to get an accurate picture of you as a leader is to ask others, “What do you think?”
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[Editors’ Note: To learn more about this and related topics, you may want to attend the following on-demand webinars (which you can view at your leisure, and each includes a comprehensive customer PowerPoint about the topic):
This is an updated version of an article originally published on March 23, 2017, and revised on May 5, 2020.]
©2023. DailyDACTM, LLC d/b/a/ Financial PoiseTM. This article is subject to the disclaimers found here.
Lee Eisenstaedt brings more than 35 years of diverse leadership, finance and operations experience to the clients of the Leading With Courage® Academy. The CFO of SC Johnson has described Lee as a well-rounded businessman because he’s “…worked for more than two companies, in more than two functions, in more than two countries.” Lee focuses…