Ask For Feedback

About 10 years ago, I spent some time at the Center For Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC. In preparing for their program, I was required to send 10 anonymous surveys on my leadership competencies to 10 people- evenly split between peers and subordinates. Additionally, my 2 bosses were asked to fill out the survey and identify themselves.

That experience provided some of the most multifaceted learning about myself that I had experienced to date.

Feedback is a gift, and like all presents, you can use and cherish it, store in an attic, or toss it. Your choice.

Are you looking to feel good? I hope not.

After that experience, not all of which was positive and left me “feeling good” for sure, I tried in every situation to gather feedback from those around me.

One of my bosses gave me a very positive review on the survey and he focused on what I did well and what strengths I brought to the organization. The other review was, in my view, harsh, critical, and focused on what was lacking in my contribution. He and I did not always get along well and I had to process this while my emotions were rebelling against what he was saying.

I went to the first boss and shared both surveys and asked, “Which one is right?” His response: “Both of us are”.

What you think about yourself isn’t the only point.

Frankly, our own assessment of how well we are doing as a leader, without the input of those we lead, is irrelevant. If we don’t ask for feedback from time to time,  I would assume that means we are either insensitive or fearful. Does it indicate that our egos are in our own way?

My boss was right, the feedback received which I felt was harsh and critical was valid – even if it was wrong. Why? Because it was how that other boss perceived who I was and what I was doing. If I wanted to change that perception, then I needed to internalize what he was saying, and adjust my style, or approach, or attitude. What he was saying was more important than what I believed about what he was saying.

What’s good feedback?

This blog, and even more so the associated presentation on the 15 Axioms, which I share with various business and leadership groups, is formed and continually shaped by the feedback I receive.

Before each presentation, I hand out a stack of 3” x 5” cards and I ask people to give me feedback on anything they would like, but specifically I would like their assessment on 3 things:

Message: What is it, in one or two sentences, you believe I am saying?

Presentation: The slides, my use of the room, response to questions.

Change: What do you think I should change to make this more effective?

The change in my approach, content, colors, grammar, stories, and even punctuation over the past 4 years since I have done this, is dramatic. When you invite someone to tell you what they really think and give them a framework on how to do that, you will be amazed at the quality of feedback you will get.

Let me give examples of incomplete, maybe even poor, but well-meaning feedback received prior to asking specifically what I wanted:

Nice job, thanks for coming today.

Good presentation, you put a lot into it.

Didn’t really get what you were trying to say.

Slides are bland, spice them up a bit.

What do you do with these statements? Either you feed your ego because you had two pats on the back, or beat yourself up because someone didn’t really like what you had to say. But changes to your message, presentation, or slides is not possible.

Here are examples of actual good feedback I received from the last 15 Axioms presentation I gave:

Enlarge the font on your headings.

Message: self reflection and considering your journey in life (he or she got it).

Nice mix of life and work stories – more stories would help.

Add more pictures, especially personal ones, they make it real.

Don’t uppercase prepositions, no semi colon on … use a comma.

Is that great or what? I will make changes immediately from this input.

Do you want to know?

When you are in a position of leadership, you exert some level of authority over people who “follow you”. It may be positional, such as when you are the employer or boss (or a parent). In these positions people don’t necessarily choose you to lead them, but they will choose how much of themselves they will give you.

It may be influential, as when you are the chairperson of a committee, or a leader in a volunteer organization, a church, or community arts council. It may be the fact that by reputation you are someone looked to for advice, counsel, information, or approval– such as a teacher, speaker, or author.

You are always in a place where people want your expressions about their work, life, ideas, or assessment of them as a person. Great or small, what you say and do impacts others.

Do you know what they think of your approach to influencing and leading them? If you say yes, how do you know? What do you do specifically to get that feedback without fear of reprisal or disapproval?

If you are thinking to yourself, “I have an open door policy, they can come in and tell me what they are thinking, and they know I won’t bite their heads off.”- then I would challenge you to find a way to validate that other than asking them directly. Use a third party, give out anonymous surveys, bring in an HR professional who can facilitate a session with you and your staff to let them tell you directly. But, find out if you want to know how to become a more effective, open and honest leader of others.

Do you really want to know?

I do!!

It’s time for me to ask for your feedback on this blog. Please feel free to offer anything you would like, but I would appreciate if you could answer three things for me:

1. Does the messages in these posts and the root 15 Axioms get you to think about your leadership in work and life? If so, why? Add any specifics you’d like to share.

2. Is this blog visually pleasing? Again, why?

3. What suggestion would you have for me to improve anything? -Message, visuals, or style.

You can leave feedback in the comments section. They will not publish automatically; I see them first. You can leave them anonymously; that is fine. You can ask for a response – please leave me your email – I won’t publish that. But please take a moment and let me know what you are thinking. I do want your feedback.

Thanks, Kevin

  1. Dean Kloter says:

    Dear Kevin,

    This is GREAT work! Your 15 Axioms get right to the heart of Leadership and personal growth. They are clearly thought provoking and are the essence of living a fulfilling life. Any one that spends time meditating on each one becomes immersed in a flood of thoughts reflecting upon their own personal life experiences, the outcome of which either validates their beliefs and provides peace and comfort or provokes and pulls on your heartstrings to take action toward improvement. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Yes, this blog is visually pleasing and more of the same as far as content and message is improvement. Keep up the good work.

    Warmest Regards and Godspeed in all you do.
    Thanks for the inspiration.
    (I put a link to 15 Axioms on my web site. The information is too valuable to not share)

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