By Nedra Chandler, 5-minute read
I just had a heart-to-heart talk with a friend who is the leader of an organization in the middle of some extra churn. There have been departures of permanent staff, a busy season coming up, hiring for positions and a lot of competing priorities at the exact time when there is no slack in the system or schedule, least of all her schedule.
While her many years of experience and successes make her confident about what she brings to her leadership role, she’s feeling a troubling sense of isolation from her larger team. She said some days it feels like she has a shrinking number of people she can count on to speak their minds with her. For example, she said her board is not super engaged or active at the moment, her senior staff are out of the office a lot managing their own projects and staff, and she senses a pervasive attitude of “let’s just make it through this quarter and talk later…” Now what?
While it may seem a counterintuitive move, now may be a great time to amp up her resilient self-awareness, pick of posse of 7 or so people to get and give some fresh and focused feedback. Low-tech (not online) and clear about the purpose. I’ll start by giving you the take home points up front.
5 take-home points for leaders with that feeling of a little bit of lonely isolation right now…
- First the good news/bad news reminder that feedback is everywhere, all the time. Whether it’s invited or not, welcome or unwelcome, direct or subtle, verbal/nonverbal, written or implied, it’s everywhere. (See my post on this topic using insights from co-authors of Thanks for the Feedback, Sheila Heen and Doug Stone if you’re interested.) What’s hard is focusing on tangible or other feedback you’re ready to use.
- Everyone has self-limiting behaviors. No one is spared. Because we’re humans. You are already an accomplished leader. Focus on the habits that limit you now.
- This low tech 360 posse I describe below is not a one-shot deal. Expect it to take months, no, a lifetime (!) of small, daily commitments and practice with one thing, one habit at a time (not 12 or 15 things) you’ve chosen to grow yourself out of and into your next lively state of being.
- Frequent, regular check ins with a posse of people you trust (or at least respect) will be key. Probably one person at a time, but it could be a group on the phone or in person, every quarter or so.
- Briefly and simply listen to them and thank them for telling you whether or not they notice you making progress on the one habit you are attempting to shift. The hardest thing: no explanations and certainly no excuses: just “thank you.” Then you privately choose how you deal, or not, with what you hear.
Reminder of why online 360 degree feedback is valuable…and there is often a ‘too muchness’ at the same time
Frequent, regular feedback is crucial, transformative in some cases, to support your development and your capacity to be of service to what you care about most. If you like an evidence base for this, it’s already in the bag.
Also, when leaders set the example of working on their self-limiting habits for the good of themselves and the good of the whole, people notice and appreciate it. It gives your staff and partners extra permission and encouragement to keep learning and developing themselves as well.
As a credentialed coach facilitator who uses a range of online 360-degree feedback tools, especially the ones my government clients lean to, I’m not giving up on the online tools. But I am not recommending them for leaders at the top of organizations. The online tools have an important function, and especially for staff. But for top leaders in particular, I believe there is a too-muchness about many of these intensely-designed online tools — too many competencies, so much anonymous feedback, sanitized and over-systematized. Overwhelm too often ensues. Shut down may follow.
How do you get diverse-yet-pointed feedback more simply?
I am excited about a fresh approach to getting 360-degree (full circle) feedback for leaders. The heart of it is a small, frequently-consulted posse of colleagues such as direct reports, board members, and partners.
I owe Marshall Goldsmith a debt of gratitude for teaching his approach to me and the other Lead60 coaches — encouraging us to use it and share it widely for adapting and using. If you are one of my coach facilitator readers or colleagues please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send you the basis to lead the process. In the meantime, the briefest explanation I’ve seen yet is contained in this disarming note from a leader. See how he made it possible to say no? See how he made it easy to say yes?
I’m not sure if you are aware, but (names of leadership team here) and I have been working with Nedra on our leadership team development and personal growth, with the aim of improving our organizational and leadership skills and styles. As part of that, we are using a sort of 360 degree approach to get feedback from our “posse.” I would like you to be a member of my posse.
Yes, you are allowed to say “no!” But it’s pretty simple and won’t take much time. If you are game, Nedra will contact you relatively soon to schedule a 10-15-minute phone conversation for some time before April 6.
From those visits, she will provide each of us with thematic yet focused feedback that will not be attributed to any of our posse members. You don’t need to respond to me. I’ve copied Nedra, and you replying to her will get things moving (or not!).
Thank you for considering my request, (name of leader)
Shouldn’t we focus on strengths? Why focus on habits they notice in us like frowning, sighing, not listening, or always being in a hurry?
Granted, it’s wonderful to hear genuine positive feedback about your strengths. Truly. And it’s important to solicit that. Granted too, it’s not fun for most of us to hear negative feedback about ourselves and how we’re coming across to a group of various humans. It’s important to solicit that too. Especially in this particular approach to full circle feedback. This way, you get right after the tangible, actionable things.
We’ve all been there. Feedback is a gift, and you get to choose what you pay attention to. All feedback is not created equally worthy or ‘accurate,’ yet it’s information you can use to heighten your awareness and inform your own choices. That’s the gift of it. Admittedly, the whole deal is also fraught with a bunch of messy, irrational humans in it, and therefore the situation is ambiguous at times. That’s why you use a coach facilitator to guide it from the side.
The title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s books, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There says so much about what is at the heart of stalling out at the top. As Goldsmith points out that the higher you rise in your organization, the more likely your problems are likely to be behavioral. Marshall’s newest book with co-author Sally Helgesen, also covers some of this ground beautifully in How Women Rise.
Remember you are here in this leadership role because you’re already smart, strategic, focused and probably a strong communicator. What that means is that what’s left to work on are behavioral things. Habits.
You, like every other mortal on the planet, sometimes default to habitual responses or reactions — some that do and some that don’t serve you or your organization. The consequences of our leadership habits run the gamut from small to huge in these cases. We all do this unconscious thing — default, automated behavior called habits.
Habits are notoriously hard to recognize in yourself and difficult to shift once you do. Can adults change their behavioral habits? Emphatically: yes. It’s because of neuroplasticity and it’s some of the best news we humans have gotten from science during this decade. The best news of all: your behavior lies within your control–unlike toddlers, the global economy and other peoples’ choices.
Have you noticed people are less likely to risk telling you how your habits affect them since you rose closer to the top?
Have you considered that your power and influence has been growing? And along with that expansion, it got a lot harder than it used to be to have others feel safe telling you, for just one possible (yet common) example:
“Your way of consistently defaulting to being the first to talk in a meeting, is keeping the people around you from contributing for fear of being out of step with you and your views. They are censoring themselves, knowing you’ll speak first anyway…”
I listened to a former US Attorney General describe how, after he got some similar feedback to the above, he began to practice waiting to speak until everyone in the room had the chance to contribute. Why? He (and the country) needed the benefit of his staff’s diversity of views. Knowing that if he spoke first it would dampen the courage of others to disagree, he coached himself with the internal reminder:
“I will practice waiting until I’ve heard from everyone present before I chime in.”
Viola. With practice, he says he entered a new realm in leadership effectiveness with that one fundamental shift.
For another example:
“Your chief of (whatever) can’t find an opening to let you know that the way you sigh out loud and your mouth goes into a big frown when you’re thinking makes staff and other leaders avoid you. Some (inaccurately) perceive your sighs as a sure sign you don’t like or respect them.”
Can you see yourself or people you know in any part of these examples?
If you’re still reading, then maybe you’re ready for this! I invite you to find your own development partners and serve as a partner to your colleagues in the same way. When you choose it, it can be rewarding beyond measure.
A bit about me: writer, Montanan, mediator and development coach for government leaders & teams. Find me and my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and please sign up to receive my monthly posts in your inbox by typing in your email address here.
We help people listen and talk with each other with purpose and clarity. We find out what people are ready for and design custom collaborative or other opportunities. We serve as guides on the side to help participants find common ground and take action where they choose.