The best judge of how you are doing as a leader are the very people who depend on you for leadership. I often ask leaders how much time they spend asking their people directly for feedback. The response is not about how often it happens, but more about whether it happens at all.
This is a missed opportunity for leaders to build trust with their people – I insist that they start doing it, and doing it regularly. Few things demonstrate concern for the wellbeing of a leaders’ people more practically than a leader being genuinely interested in the impact that their words and deeds have on their people.
The number one concern here is that the leader will not get the truth, unless the process is confidential. While a legitimate concern, the evidence of a genuine relationship of trust between leader and direct report will be that the leader asks their people for feedback, and they absolutely know with conviction that they get the straight-between-the-eyes truth. This will only happen when the only consequence for giving the leader honest feedback is a better leader, and people only learn this over time.
If a leader wants honest feedback, they have to start asking for it regularly and showing they are prepared to do something about it. The reason you’re asking for feedback is to give your team better leadership. The only consequence of giving you feedback should be a change in leadership behaviour. Don’t start unless you are prepared to stick to this principle.
Asking about specifics is generally more successful than open-ended questions
Thank people for their feedback – gratitude goes a long way!
If something needs to be changed, then change it and tell your people you’re doing it.
Follow up, check if what you’ve changed is working
Ask for feedback regularly – 6-8 times a year.
The key to starting this process is to accept that you will probably not get the truth initially, and to persevere. One manager I coached in 2016 reported that she spent six months asking for feedback and doing something about it before she really felt she started to get the truth.
This process absolutely works to build trust with your people precisely because it practically demonstrates that you are prepared to put your people’s interests ahead of your own.