Seeking feedback from your employees is an important component to improving your leadership. We all know feedback is critical, but true feedback is a two-way street, not simply a top-down exercise. As a leader, you need performance goals and a way to measure how close you are to achieving them, otherwise it’s hard for you to improve and grow in your own career.

When employees provide you with feedback that is clear and thoughtful, it can give you the actionable data that is necessary to improve your leadership. However, if you haven’t already instilled a culture where your employees are encouraged and recognized for giving you feedback, they may find it a bit unnerving at first.

To create a safe environment and gain the feedback that you need to become a more effective leader, implement these important strategies:

  1. Develop and sustain a psychologically safe workplace. When employees provide feedback, it’s an interpersonal risk for them. That’s why it’s essential to show them that their feedback won’t cause them negative repercussions. Do this prior to asking for feedback by being curious, encouraging employees to be open and honest, and demonstrating vulnerability.
  1. Ask specific questions to get your employees talking. Simply saying “Give me feedback” isn’t the best approach. Ask about personal impact, specific events, recommendations, and negative patterns. Questions like “How did it feel when I called that impromptu meeting?” and “Have I been responsive to important emails?” will provide you with useful data to make specific changes to your behavior as a leader. Dig in deeper if any of your direct reports aren’t willing to say more than “you’re doing great” or “I have any suggestions for you to change”. Let them know it’s important to you to grow as a leader and they are key to helping make that happen.
  1. Listen carefully. Be sure to give the employee your full attention when he or she is providing you with feedback. Eliminate any distractions, including your cellphone and computer. Listen intently to what your employee is saying and avoid the urge to assess whether you think his or her message is accurate. Taking notes is a key indicator that you take their input seriously.
  1. React appropriately. Don’t challenge your employee or offer contradictory evidence if you disagree. If you try to defend yourself, you are not open to feedback. Instead, practice self-awareness and recognize that you may feel confused, frustrated, or even angry about the input you receive. Remember that your employee was generous and brave enough to provide you with his or her thoughts and it’s your responsibility to thank them for their courage and take what they share to heart.
  1. Reflect on the feedback. Now that you’ve been given new information about your performance as a leader, reflect on this information. Spend time processing what your employees’ insights mean and their implications on your workplace and your leadership style. This reflection time will help you determine which areas of your leadership you need to improve on. If necessary, bounce what you heard off a trusted colleague or mentor – does the feedback resonate with them as well? Do they agree with the employee’s assessment of your leadership approach? It can be helpful to invite a trusted third party into your self-reflection, especially if you received surprising or unsettling comments from your direct reports.
  1. Create an action plan and implement it. Pick one or two specific areas that you need to improve in, according to the feedback, and get really clear on how to improve them. Then, put together an action plan that you can implement to adopt those new behaviors. Creating a plan and following through is not only critical for your development, it also demonstrates to the employees who provided you with the feedback that you’re committed to becoming a better leader and you value their insights. Work to maintain your leadership improvements and demonstrate to the employees who gave you input that you have made the changes.

Obtaining and learning from feedback isn’t the easiest thing to do as a leader, but it’s vital if you want to become a stronger manager and improve your employees’ experience.

Key Takeaways

  • When employees give you clear and thoughtful feedback, they provide you with the actionable data that is necessary to improve your leadership.
  • Focus on creating and maintaining a work environment where employees feel safe to provide you with input by encouraging them to be open and honest.
  • After receiving feedback from your employees, determine the areas you need to improve in and develop an action plan to help you adopt new behaviors

Adapted from: How Leaders Can Get Honest, Productive Feedback, Jennifer Porter, Harvard Business Review.