“A Daring Greatly culture is a culture of honest, constructive, engaged feedback. Without feedback, there can be no transformative change.”
— Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
As you think about your leaders and supervisors over the years, who has helped you to give or receive honest, constructive, engaged feedback? How did they do it?
Years ago, I was told by my supervisor that he was very disappointed in my speaking. I remember him wincing as if he was in pain, waving his arms around and talking in a voice that was TOO LOUD. He gave me this feedback:
“YOU HAVE NOT FOUND YOUR VOICE. IF YOU ARE GOING TO FILL A ROOM THAT SIZE, YOU HAVE GOT TO HAVE MORE ENERGY. YOU ARE WAY TOO CALM.”
It was very direct. It was honest. It was engaged. And he he was right, I hadn’t found my voice. But his feedback didn’t help me. Instead of noticing a problem and helping me see my potential to change, I felt small and exposed. I remember walking out of that room feeling deflated and hopeless.
I wish he would have first asked me what I thought about how my speaking was going. Then I wish he would have taken the time to write down three specific areas where I needed to improve, and then walked me through those three areas (writing them down communicates that this isn’t an off-the-cuff conversation). Lastly, I wish he would have asked me what I thought I needed in order to improve. Even though I still would have felt the sharp sting of not measuring up, I think I would have known how to move towards improvement. This is what I needed from him, but I was afraid to ask.
As a result, for many years now, I try to ask all of my direct reports this question, each time I meet with them:
What do you need from me that you’re not getting?
I like this question because:
It teaches me how to lead people uniquely. The temptation as a leader is to lead everyone according to how I’m wired, rather than how a particular person responds best. But everybody loses when the leader insists on leading according to her own preferences alone. Leading people uniquely means that the leader moves beyond “How do I want it done,” to “How can I help this person thrive while they do what they need to do.” That’s when leadership becomes fun.
It teaches people that they’re responsible to ask for what they need. On our staff, we’ve been trying to instill the value that you’re responsible to ask for what you need, versus getting frustrated because your supervisor isn’t reading your mind. Now, just because someone asks for something doesn’t mean they automatically receive it, but it opens the conversation so that we can work towards a solution together. I remember recently telling the person that I report to the way I like to receive feedback. It was very helpful for me to say it out loud and remember that it’s my job to say what I need, and it was also helpful to her because she wants to lead well.
It promotes vulnerability. In simply asking the question, I am opening up the possibility that I might need to change something in the way that I lead, versus assuming that the person I’m leading is the one who automatically must change. This changes the temperature in the room, especially if something really does need to change in how I lead.
What has helped you as a leader to build trust and help people grow and engage in constructive feedback?