I am currently doing 360 reviews for senior management at a company with a strong culture of ongoing leadership development and learning.  The participants are enthusiastic about receiving feedback and discovering opportunities for growth as leaders.  It is refreshing to be supporting clients in this environment – in my experience it is more common that feedback is not given and received so freely in the workplace.

Feedback is essential to assessing and developing yourself as a leader.  Why? Because it turns out that we are not very good at evaluating ourselves.  Justin Kruger and David Dunning of Cornell University have shown that people who are more competent in a given area, such as logical reasoning, tend to underestimate their abilities, while those who are less capable in the same area tend to overestimate their abilities.  And a study by the Hay Group found that the higher individuals move up within an organization, the more likely they are to rate themselves more highly than others rate them, and develop “blind spots” that hamper their effectiveness as leaders.  They note that as executives rise through the organization, they must strive to keep an accurate view of themselves and maintain a culture that values open communication and feedback.

In support of this notion, leadership experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman report that based on data collected for more than ten years, “we consistently find that leaders who ask for feedback are substantially more effective than leaders who don’t.” Their recent study showed that executives who asked for feedback most often, meaning they asked for feedback more frequently than 90% of their peers, were also rated, on average, in the 86th percentile in leadership effectiveness.  The reverse of this was also true; those who asked for feedback least often, less frequently than 90% of their peers, were ranked at the 15th percentile in leadership effectiveness.  Similarly, a study by Allan Church found that high-performing managers showed greater awareness of their own than abilities and behaviors than those of average performance.

While formal coaching programs and 360 reviews are one way to get valuable inputs on your performance as a leader, you can ask for feedback yourself with something as simple as these three questions:

  • When am I at my best as a leader?
  • What could I do to be even more effective as a leader?
  • What other advice or feedback do you have for me?

One benefit of a formal 360 review is that when a coach is conducting the review, there is a buffer between the person receiving the review and the person offering the inputs.  Those providing inputs speak more freely, and the coach can summarize individual comments into overall strengths and growth opportunities.  This can sometimes be easier to process and more productive for the person receiving the feedback than getting free-form, “un-sanitized” feedback.

If you do seek feedback on your own:

  • Listen with an open mind; don’t interrupt or defend or justify yourself.
  • Ask for examples or clarification, if needed; statements like, “You communicate well” don’t give you much understanding of specific ways you are effective.
  • Give yourself time after the conversation to look at the feedback objectively and reflect on how you want to use it.

When you seek out feedback, it is important to remember that you are never required to listen to feedback that is offered to you – it is optional.  By framing it this way, accepting feedback is a choice you make and not something you have to do.  The most effective leaders are not told that they must grow and develop, they choose to do so.

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