It’s the oldest skill in the management texts: listen to your employees. Seek their input. But it’s not enough to ask for feedback; you have to be genuinely interested in the response—especially if you think you won’t like it. Those posing as leaders seek feedback because HR has ordered them to do it, not because they’re really interested.
Extreme Leaders will not only use 360-degree assessments (which can be powerful tools when used effectively), but they seek extreme feedback face-to-face because they know they need it in order to be great. If you’re willing to hear the unpleasant truths about yourself—or at least about how you’re being perceived—and you’re ready to use them to progress in your journey as a leader, then these Extreme Feedback steps should be just the ticket:
1. Put Yourself at Risk By asking for feedback (and meaning it) you automatically put yourself in what can feel like an exposed, underbelly-up-to-the-mad-wolves position. But—and this is counter-intuitive—it’s really a very strong position for a leader to be in. We follow human beings, not idealized icons of unattainable perfection, so your vulnerability gives us the opportunity to connect with you human to human, and a strong human connection engenders commitment and loyalty, the elements that every leader longs for in his or her team. Putting yourself at risk when asking for extreme feedback not only gives you the chance to learn from those around you, it deepens the relationships as well.
Take your risk by personally going to your team—either one-on-one or as a group—and asking them to tell you what, specifically, you need to do to improve as an Extreme Leader.
2. Accept What You Hear (And Show It) Take copious notes as they’re answering your question. Don’t defend yourself, justify, or make excuses for what you’re hearing (and writing). If you’d like, ask some questions to make sure you fully understand each item, and talk it through to make sure you’re understand the details and context with crystal clarity.
And then, when they’re all done, when they’ve unloaded all there is to unload, read your notes back, out loud, and check to be sure you’ve captured it all accurately.
And then, look him, her, or them in the eye and say these two words straight from your heart:
3. Do Something About It Nobody will realistically expect you to start at item one and work your way down the list, fixing each one in turn. But they will (and should) expect to see you try. Let them see what you’re doing, where you’re improving, and where you need their help to improve. Prove through your own actions that you’re taking their input to heart.
4. Close the Loop (and Start a New One) After a month or so, have a follow up conversation to review your notes and discuss your progress (or lack thereof). And then start it all over again.
CAUTION: DO NOT ATTEMPT UNLESS YOU REALLY, SINCERELY DESIRE TO HEAR THE TRUTH AND ARE WILLING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
If you do try this, however, you’ll find that you’ll soon earn the right to ask the people from whom you’ve been getting feedback to go forth and replicate the process with their teams, colleagues, co-workers and clients. You’ll soon find that even though you started out attempting to improve your leadership skills, you’ll end up setting a new standard of communication and openness throughout the organization.
And that’s the kind of organization that cultivates Extreme Leaders at every level.