The subtle failures of leaders
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Leaders are often in charge of finding our own areas of growth. This becomes more challenging to do the longer we lead, but it is not because we have become so amazing — it is because it becomes more difficult for others give us feedback.
Here are some subtle ways leaders fail that our boards, colleagues and executive teams may neglect to mention — and how to get them to tell us.
Oh, that's just how he is
Having open lines of communication with the people in position to give us feedback is great, but often their high level of comfort gives them permission to shrug off some of our weaknesses. Not being a morning person is one thing, but if no one schedules meetings before 10 a.m. because the consensus is that we say no to every idea presented before lunch is another.
To find a way to ensure that professional weaknesses are not chalked up to personality traits and ignored, we must find a way to uncover those idiosyncrasies.
One way is to have an independent consultant come in and facilitate discussions with the executive team to gather the information and present it in a form that is constructive. This can be helpful and often gathers the best feedback and input for future growth, but it will cost money.
Another low- to no-cost approach could include asking for anonymous input or feedback from staff or the executive team. If the request is presented in a safe and open manner, it could yield helpful and surprising feedback. The key is to ensure confidentiality and make it a point not to try to figure out who said what.
Finally, we could find that honesty ambassador who usually annoys everyone with the way she unabashedly shares her opinions and ask her for her opinion. If the conversation is framed clearly, it is often possible to get great feedback directly, succinctly and quickly.
In addition to our personality traits, our communication with staff can unwittingly undermine our success. As leaders, we often forget we have access to the big picture in a way that most of our teams do not.
For example, we may look at daily operations and praise consistency, strict schedules and standardized processes — and in the next breath, praise the innovative, out-of-the-box thinking we see in our technology teams.
Without a clear view of the bigger picture, these two comments may seem contradictory to staff. This could lead to misinterpretation of priorities and favoritism and in general undermine the cohesiveness of the organization.
The best way to uncover this type of issue is with a concise employee survey. Questions that target communication, perception and an understanding of the organization and the roles of the different departments will illustrate underlying inconsistencies. Such surveys can be facilitated by outside providers or handled by an internal HR department.
The bottom line: Long-tenured leaders looking for ways to continue to develop professionally will benefit from looking a little harder and more creatively for ways they can improve.
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