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Improve Your Leadership Communication Skills and Make a Bigger Impact, Sooner

The Importance of Feedback in Developing Your Leadership Style

At the Leading With Courage Academy, we meet a lot of people who reached the C-Suite who tell us that they don’t need to learn more about themselves or to further sharpen their leadership skills, and more specifically, their leadership communication skills.

They tend to rationalize like this: “I’m the (CEO, CFO, CMO or CXO) and know all of that stuff.”

If they didn’t know the “stuff,” we’re told, they wouldn’t be where they are. Whenever I hear this, I remember a formative experience earlier in my career.

I returned from a week-long program at the Center For Creative Leadership (“CCL”)—an objective, thorough and exhausting executive development program. It provided me with the insights necessary to land two positions and spend five years working in Paris, France. It also gave me the courage to start my own business (twice).

In other words, it was a true game-changer.

The Leadership Comment that Shocked Me

After getting back to the office from CCL, I sat down with my boss and shared what I learned and the action plan I developed. I then asked for his support in implementing it. Before getting far into our meeting, he said he admired me for going through such an intense journey of self-discovery. I then told him I assumed he went through it given his position in the company and his advocacy for my attendance.

“Oh no,” he said. “I would never want to know that much about myself.”

That last comment came as a shock to me, but it also provided me with insights about his leadership style. It set me on a path of:

  • helping people learn their strengths and blind spots early in their careers before they can’t address or fall victim to them; and
  • founding The Leading With Courage Academy.

Here’s a Universal Truth About Leadership

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 in spite of years of experience, other people’s perceptions are the reality you have to deal with. Sometimes these perceptions are wrong and, from time to time, 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 two questions to answer about how others see us:

  • Is this how I want to be perceived?
  • If not, what am I going to do about it?

The One Question You Must Ask

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 the way we view ourselves, our relationships and/or our decisions. The answers may reveal our shortcomings to others.

Failing to muster the courage to ask colleagues, direct reports, suppliers, board members and customers for their feedback on a regular basis can lead to arrogance. That can take you down in many ways, including:

  • An inappropriate meeting
  • An ill-advised speech
  • The assignment of resources based on personal gain
  • An unthoughtful comment
  • Adopting an autocratic management style
  • Bullying and micromanaging subordinates
  • The belief that you are the smartest person in the room

How real is this fear? What are the consequences of arrogance? For answers, you need only look at the importance of feedback in the case of Enron, Kodak, Nortel, Blockbuster and how U.S. automakers responded to Japanese imports in the 1980’s.

One time, a client asked us to remove a question from an assessment out of fear it would lead to loss of customers. Despite being told that we’ve asked this question thousands of times and haven’t had anything close to that experience, the client told us he didn’t “…have any data or research to support my feeling, just my years of experience and a deep understanding of my business.”

After a bit of back and forth, we took the question out and the client lost the opportunity to differentiate his business from its competitors. Within a year, his company sold, and the brand he had worked so hard to create ceased to exist.

6 Questions to Reflect on Your Leadership Communication Skills

The list of attributes, skills and qualities on which feedback can be sought is endless. Here are four that will help you make the biggest impact, sooner:

  • What kind of a boss are you?
  • Are you the sort of boss you want to work for?
  • How well do others feel you delegate tasks and projects?
  • Are you trying to do everything yourself?
  • How well do you build relationships that foster trust?
  • Are you a good listener and someone who keeps an open mind, or do you come in with the answers?

An Even Bigger Challenge

Finding the courage to ask others “what do you think” isn’t enough. The bigger challenge is to listen to what others tell you and work with the feedback. Feedback, perceived as a gift, is used as a roadmap for improving an organization, team or individual. Develop an action plan based on these learnings. Share the plan with those who provided feedback. Last, resistance to the plan should be monitored and communicated on a regular basis.

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.

Those questions are:

  • What are you going to start, stop, or continue doing?
  • What does success look like?
  • When will you see the results?
  • What resources are needed to implement the plan?

Ways To Seek Feedback

No matter what slot 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. You might be familiar with ways to seek feedback, but here’s a partial list (just in case you need it).Ask what do you think and variations on it such as:

  • If you were in my shoes…
  • What would you change tomorrow?
  • What’s one thing I could improve on?
  • What’s one thing I could have done better in that presentation?
  • What are you hearing our clients say about our service?

You can ask these questions by doing the following:

  • Ask for feedback in real time
  • Conduct 360 assessments
  • Set up focus groups
  • Schedule top-to-top meetings with your best/better clients
  • Walk the factory floor
  • Conduct town hall meetings
  • Keep an open door policy (but don’t shoot the messenger)
  • Survey customer/client satisfaction and loyalty
  • Engage an executive coach

The Importance of Feedback in Realizing Your Potential

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. When we ignore or fail to learn from feedback, we run the risk of being less relevant and resilient. This, in our ever-changing environment, is equivalent to a death sentence.

The Leading With Courage Academy offers a free leadership self-assessment that provides you with insights into 26 attributes, 9 behaviors and 4 qualities of effective leaders and managers. It takes five minutes to complete and can give you a sense of your leadership style and leadership communication skills.

One caveat: The results of our self-assessment skew based on our positive bias for ourselves. Even if you think you’re a 5-out-of-5 on each attribute (and you may well be), when the people you work with think you’re a 2-out-of-5… then you are a 2.

The only way around it is to ask others, “What do you think?”

[Editor’s Note: To learn more about this and related topics, you may want to attend the following webinars: What Every Founder/Entrepreneur Must Know and The Effective Director. This is an updated version of an article originally published on March 23, 2017.]

©All Rights Reserved. May, 2020.  DailyDAC™, LLC d/b/a/ Financial Poise™

About Lee Eisenstaedt

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…

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