Employees typically have a better vantage point for seeing your flaws, as well as observing your strengths. Similar to surveys gauging how employees feel about the company, a leadership performance survey can provide insight into how you’re doing as the founder, and what you could do to improve.
Asking my staff how I’m doing on a regular basis has improved my leadership skills. I’ve sharpened certain skills, thanks to my teams’ insights. Here’s what it has done for me, what it might achieve for you, and how you can get the same benefits.
1. I’m a better listener. Talking with my staff about my leadership style and what they need from me has helped me to stop, focus and actively listen. Not only are they talking about me, but they’re sharing insights and ideas on what I’m doing to either help or hinder them. Really listening to them and understanding how they relate their impressions of my performance also helps me learn their communication styles.
2. I have a new perspective. Just because I’m the leader doesn’t mean I know everything, or that my perspective is the only one that matters. Instead, hearing about my performance, including strengths and weaknesses, allows me to see me through someone else’s eyes. They offer their perspective, which helps me be realistic about how I’m really doing.
3. I know what to work on. Hearing from others what I could be doing better provides me with a personalized list of skills to work on. Better yet, these are skills I hadn’t realized needed work and are important to my employees. If I see a pattern, it then stands out as things that should be upgraded to address the concerns and needs of my team. The feedback becomes an action list that tells me where to focus.
4. I’m developing new motivational strategies. This feedback is not just about me. I also ask how I can help motivate my employees. They tell me what incentivizes them and makes them feel appreciated. As a leader, I can make these things happen, which in turn inspires them to work harder. It’s better for them to tell me what they want than for me to guess. For instance, picking out gifts is not my strong suit, so when I get feedback on what employees want in terms of a gift wish list, I can fulfill that and know they’ve gotten exactly what they wanted. That makes both me and them feel great.
5. I’m more sympathetic. The more I hear from others about their work environment and what I could do to help them, the more sympathetic I become. I better understand and am conscious of them as individuals; therefore, I can directly address their needs and help them accomplish mutual goals. Without hearing from them in these written or verbal feedback sessions, I don’t think I’d be able to truly understand where they’re coming from.
6. I have a thicker skin. Constructive criticism — and how my employees really feel — helps me become stronger. I’ve learned not to take it personally, similar to negativity about my company in the press. What I can do is take it to heart, and know that people aren’t going to be happy all of the time and that there are certain things that need work. A leader needs to have tough skin, so hearing that others feel I could improve doesn’t upset me. If anything, it makes me happy to know that people care enough and are comfortable enough to give me their unfiltered opinion. While it helps to be a sensitive leader, you must also project strength so that the organization knows you can hold the company together.
7. I focus on ongoing improvement. Hearing from others about how I can improve and then acting on that feedback also demonstrates that constant improvement and continual learning is good for the organization overall. It has helped me see the value of offering more opportunities for everyone to improve their skills. All of us working on improvements can only lead to better performance and greater success.
8. I better understand my strengths. Feedback is also about learning what you’re doing right. It shows me what my team values and admires, so I can leverage those strengths to get more from them. I also know that when they see these qualities in action, it helps them develop similar skills and leadership abilities as they grow. It’s also a confidence booster — even a leader could use a few compliments now and again.
How to get honest feedback
There are a number of components involved in getting feedback. First, you need to know who to ask. Instead of canvasing the entire company, I started with core management. Over time, I widened my feedback circle to include employee surveys of leadership.
What you ask is also important. I made questions relate to specific skills and areas. The list included how well I listen to others, how effectively I communicate, how I delegate responsibility and provide direction, how well I take action after talking about something, how I cultivate individual talents, how I commend or reward others, how I motivate the team, how fair I am, how well I provide feedback and how approachable I am. Then, I ask them to list my top five strengths and weaknesses to further hone in on how I’m doing.
You will need to pick an appropriate time to ask. With my executive team, I asked casually, and scheduled time to meet later about their impressions. When I did an employee survey, I made it part of a larger organizational survey where they could address many topics. I also made sure I did this well after our performance reviews, so they didn’t feel like negative feedback affected anything.
Lastly, think about how you’ll respond to what you learn. Personally, I asked questions to better understand the feedback from my colleagues. When it came to responding to employee feedback, I shared the results with everyone. It was important for me to acknowledge and commend the team for sharing their insights while also telling them what I will work on to become a better leader. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather a validation of their opinions. And it can only help improve our overall performance as an organization.