Stop Looking Up


Companies worry about many things--including the lack of leaders and leadership skills. 'Bring on the leadership development training' they cry! Or so said this Wall Street Journal article from 2012. But it's not that the talent isn't there. Or that the talent is there but needs help bridging the gap. From where I sit, the problem seems to be sky-high.

Corporations have long been known for their politics. If you want to move up in the corporate world, you've got to impress those in the positions you want to someday have. You have to anticipate their needs, be proactive and demonstrate that you can play in the big leagues. But all that upward focus can leave leaders with an inability to turn around. They're so focused on managing upwards, they don't think about the impression they leave on their own teams. Please, please let my boss think I'm doing a good job. My team?

Oh, they're fine.

Sure, many companies use 360-degree feedback (it gained real popularity in the early 90s), but more recent studies challenged that there isn't necessarily a correlation between top-down performance ratings and multi-rater feedback. Still, for executives or "managers of managers," anecdotal feedback can be really powerful, especially in large organizations, where leaders may not interact with their subordinates' teams and have no idea what a subordinate's day-to-day management style looks and feels like.

Research and anecdotes aside, I have a simple question for managers who don't ask for team feedback. Don't you want to know? Most of know what we're good at, but annoying management habits often go unnoticed. And while it is that simple, maybe you're not convinced. Here's why feedback from your team is important.

1) Bad Hairdo Syndrome: When you're running around to get things done, you don't look in the mirror. If you have kids, you know what I am talking about. You rush to get ready, get their lunches and get out the door. Hours later you glimpse in the mirror and realize you never brushed your hair that morning. Shocked? Maybe. Tenth time this month that's happened? Yep. You have to look in the mirror every day and recognize your own bad habits. Otherwise you forget the reality of your everyday, and won't make any effort to change.

2) Avoiding Dictatorship: Classic dictator traits include constant delegation, direction, oversight and one-way communication. Is that you? Without asking for feedback from your peers and team members, it's easy to give direction and never look back. But what if the direction you're giving is being perceived in a certain way? If you don't ask, you'll never know.

3) Assumptions of Perfection: You may assume that if your team is happy, or pleasant around you that the like you. And if they like you, you're doing a good job right? Nope. If you never ask your team for feedback, they'll assume you never will. So all they think they can do is accept status quo. Does that mean they don't complain? Sure they do. They just do it to each other (when you're not around) or to their spouse or significant other at home. Have you ever walked through the front door and complained about your boss? Exactly. It's being done to you too.

4) They'll Tell Me: Not everyone has the confidence or ability to open up and pro-actively complain. Many leaders think that if they're doing something wrong, their team members will tell them. Not so. Giving unsolicited feedback is one of the hardest things to do at work since you don't know what the reaction will be. Will your leader care? Get defensive? Hold it against you? If you don't ask, you're chances of getting feedback is minimal.

Feedback is a gift. It may be hard to take in some cases, but it could be the best thing that ever happened to you. Harboring bad habits, or repetitive behaviors that are never corrected are hard to shake on your own. Asking for feedback is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your own personal development. And it's never too soon to ask. Whether you have one employee or ten, start by asking informally. Once you ask, it's also key to make sure you follow-up as well. You may not be able to act on every piece of feedback (or want to), but just asking, is an important first step.


On the flip side, if your boss isn't savvy enough to ask for upward feedback, that doesn't mean you can't be vocal. Amy Gallo provides some great tips in this Harvard Business Review guest blog on giving your boss feedback. The key is to have details and to provide both positive examples and areas of opportunity where impact to the team or the overall results could have been impacted for the better.

It's still tricky though to offer unsolicited feedback. Maybe your boss isn't asking you for feedback, but that doesn't mean you can't ask your team, your peers or your clients for feedback on your own performance. Then you can set the example. The boss isn't always right, I promise.

Related Posts