Leadership positions at all levels exist to ensure results through the efforts of others. Leadership style and behaviors themselves, however, often create barriers to getting those results.
One non-negotiable for effective leadership is self-awareness. It’s important to be aware of how your leadership style, habits, and attitudes affect others.
An aware leader is one who understands his or her limitations and humbly seeks to remove stumbling blocks caused by natural tendencies and rote management practices.
In my experience, a common thread runs through many of the relationship problems that exist between leaders and employees. Most of the time, leaders are simply unaware that a change in their own personal behavior could result in significant operational and morale improvement.
The problem is not that a leader is inflexible or unwilling to change, it’s that he or she has never been actually told what changes might help.
Here’s a simple exercise that has the potential to radically improve your reporting relationships. I’ve seen this work in organizations of all sizes—even families.
The process is simple. Either one-on-one or in a team setting, ask your employees three questions:
These questions give your employees the permission and opportunity to share what they see as helpful, harmful, or missing behaviors in your personal leadership style and practice.
Afterward, simply walk through the list and get clarification if needed. Don’t be defensive, but rather seek to understand the reasons for the items on the list.
In some cases, the requests may not be feasible at first blush. But resist the temptation to reject ideas right away.
Consider seeking outside help
If your first reaction is a concern about getting honest feedback, consider using a facilitator or employee volunteer to draw out and record the answers to the three questions without you present. This gives the team a bit more anonymity when you return to the room to discuss the comments.
For this process to be helpful, it’s critical how you frame the exercise and what you do with the results.
First, explain that you want the team to be successful and that you want to improve as a leader. It takes humility and courage to admit you need feedback to improve your performance.
Being willing to take on a process like this demonstrates a healthy leadership humility.
Second, prepare yourself to nondefensively review, consider, and act on what you learn from the exercise. If you collect the information and do nothing with it, you will likely do more damage than if you had never asked in the first place.
This is not to say you must implement every suggestion. But you should consider each one seriously, and communicate why certain requests may not be feasible at that time.
When done correctly, this simple leadership feedback process can revolutionize your relationship with your people, create additional trust, and result in improved team performance.