What sets the most supportive and dynamic leaders apart from their peers?
It’s not what you think. Not decision-making skills. Not experience. And not strategic planning. Instead, it’s their willingness—you might even call it eagerness—to solicit performance feedback from their teams.
Of the 22 leadership behaviors we’ve studied and analyzed at Spring International, we’ve found that the key differentiator for successful leaders is their eagerness to get feedback from their employees and peers. Requesting input, being open to criticism and incorporating it into long-range goals are hallmarks of the most effective executives.
That’s all very well and good for them, right? If you’d rather analyze a stack of spreadsheets than ask your colleagues to evaluate your work, you’re in good company. Few C-level executives ever request a 360-degree review. Usually it’s a consultant—yes, someone like me—who recommends it as part of a strategy to improve employee engagement.
For more than a decade, I’ve been sharing the benefits of these reviews and advising my clients to undergo them. But here’s a little secret: I’d never put myself under the microscope. That changed recently, when I asked Spring International’s employees to rate my skills.
I wanted their anonymous critiques of my abilities in 16 areas, including vision, influence, relationship-building, planning and risk-taking. I also included two open-ended questions requesting feedback about my leadership and the company’s growth.
I was terrified by what they’d say. My background is in research and analytics. I never planned to be a CEO. I had to remind myself of what I tell my anxious clients: Your vulnerability is a strength, and your employees recognize and appreciate that.
The results of my 360-degree review showed that my staff is highly attuned to my strengths and aren’t afraid to call me on my shortcomings. They suggested I step up my long-range goal-setting, focus my energy and hold them more accountable for their performance. I’ve drafted strategies to do those things over the next 12 months. And I’m more convinced than ever that all leaders should ask for a review.
If you’re weighing the idea, here are three points to consider:
What’s your next step?: Gathering feedback isn’t an end in itself. Use the responses to help you chart a plan of action. What areas will you work to improve? If you feel you need the help of an executive coach or a mentor, enlist their support.
Even critiques that miss the mark have value: If you disagree with your colleagues’ views about your competence in some areas, your accomplishments might be overshadowed by how you’re perceived. Perhaps your communication skills or style need some attention?
Pay attention to the open-ended “comments” section: I was impressed by how thoughtful and insightful my staff is, and their concern about my workload and well-being was touching. Any criticism in the review section was tempered by their clear devotion to our team and our mission.