It is reported that 50 percent of the workforce dislikes their supervisor, and the other 50 percent believe their bosses are ineffective because they worry too much about being liked.
While leadership does not need to be an either/or proposition, how others perceive your leadership might surprise you. What might be even more surprising is how evident your shortcomings are to nearly everyone—except yourself.
If you, as a leader, are looking for honest feedback for the sake of growing, it will probably not come from those you supervise. There is a good chance it will not come from the former ones, either.
In your position, if you hold sway over a person’s livelihood, pay raises, promotions, or performance reviews, consider them a conflicted party. It is probably not worth the risk for them to be honest with you about your leadership. In short, don’t believe what they are feeding you. Their goal is to get you to like them and get you to do what they want, not vice versa. At the end of the day, they may even be on your heels for your position, or quite possibly, the one over you.
And former employees may even be worse. While they may have nothing to lose, they also have nothing to gain. If things didn’t end well, bitterness might be clouding their judgment. If things ended amicably, network preservation might be their main objective. Honesty can be a risky policy when building your LinkedIn and social media kingdom.
So where does a leader go for honest feedback?
1. Try your spouse. Seriously. Find the right time and place. In a relaxed setting, promise you will not defend or get upset. Ask how they perceive you at leading others. Though spouses, if you have one, can be conflicted parties as well, they can generally get over it because they have to live with you. They know you like no one else. While it might be too much to bear for you or too great a risk of backlash for them, they may relish the chance to be honest.
2. How about your supervisor? If your work culture provides job performance reviews, then you may already receive feedback. However, job performance reviews can occasionally look like a meeting of the Mutual Edification Society or be a carefully constructed paper-trail tool of the human resource department, seeking your eventual demise. Either way, explain you want to be an asset to the organization, and you want to know the areas of where you could grow as a leader. Most supervisors will not be able to resist. If you're at the top of the food chain without a direct supervisor, once again, honest feedback is going to be tough to find.
3. Seek out coaches, counselors or consultants. Give these mentors the accessibility and permission to dig deep and speak freely. If your team is large enough, anonymous interviews with staff could go a long way toward unearthing shortcomings. Regular and open meetings with someone that is tracking with you might help, but remember you have a professional that wants to keep you as a client. It is sometimes more lucrative to tell people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
It is said that practice makes perfect, but don’t believe it. Doing the same thing over and over again poorly only deepens bad habits. Fresh and objective eyes can give you new insight on what you're doing wrong, what you're doing right and how you could do it better.
Accept the reality that what you see in the mirror is not what others see. They may be more impressed or even less, but you see yourself differently than anyone else in the world, and it is, without question, a skewed view.
Honest, objective and constructive feedback can be very challenging to find. Knowing that, accept it well and cherish it when you get it! That means avoiding the temptation to become defensive or the quick rejection of feedback that doesn’t line up with your self-image.
Whether you agree with them or not, honest feedback is someone’s perception of you. Perception can be believed to be a reality. If you are going to change the reality of how others perceive you, you first need to know how others are seeing! Discovering those perceptions isn’t always easy, but it is worth the effort.
Photo source: istock
Phil Wood pastors Fellowship Church in Carol Stream, Illinois and is director of The Wayside Center, a homeless outreach in the Chicago area.