The Value of Feedback
According to the book The Leadership Challenge, one of the things leaders can start doing to become better leaders is to ask people to give them feedback on how they’re doing. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be happening — that is, leaders do not ask for feedback.
"Most leaders don’t really want honest feedback, don’t ask for it, and don’t get much of it unless it’s forced on them" (Kouzes & Posner, 2014).
"Self-reflection, the willingness to seek feedback, and the ability to engage in new behaviors based on this information are predictive of future success in managerial jobs" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 71).
On the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) — a 30-item instrument that measures the frequency of leadership behaviors — Kouzes and Posner (co-authors of The Leadership Challenge) found that the statement leaders consistently reported themselves engaging in least often is "I ask for feedback on how my actions affect other people’s performance." Not surprisingly, followers also reported that this was one of the leadership behaviors their leaders engaged in the least.
In other words, the behavior that leaders and their followers consider being the most uncomfortable with is the same behavior that most enables leaders to know how they're doing! In order to learn, you must be willing to find out more about how your actions are affecting the behavior and performance of those around you.
You’re not going to get better if you don’t ask for feedback.
According to Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, in their HBR article (2014): "What makes receiving feedback so hard? The process strikes at the tension between two core human needs—the need to learn and grow, and the need to be accepted just the way you are. As a result, even a seemingly benign suggestion can leave you feeling angry, anxious, badly treated, or profoundly threatened."
"One major reason that most people, and especially those in leadership positions, aren't proactive in asking for feedback is their fear of feeling exposed—exposed as not being perfect, as not knowing everything, as not being as good at leadership as they should be, as not being up to the task. There is simply no way to get around the fact that you can't grow as a leader without getting feedback" (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 82).
Researchers discovered that individuals who seek out disconfirming feedback (feedback that is more negative than their own self-assessment) perform better (e.g., more likely to receive financial bonuses) than those who only listen to people who see their positive qualities (Kouzes & Posner, 2017).
Interestingly, the more frequently leaders ask for feedback, the more effective they're viewed.
"Just as the best companies are concerned about the quality of their relationships with their customers, the best leaders seek feedback—both positive and negative—about how they're doing in their relationships with their many constituents. Research shows that by collecting feedback from a variety of perspectives, especially peers and direct reports, individuals can understand how they're seen from all points of view. They can then use this knowledge to assess the extent to which they actually exhibit exemplary leadership behaviors" (Kouzes & Posner, 2020, p. 2).
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader
Heen, S., & Stone, D. (2014). Find the Coaching in Criticism. https://hbr.org/2014/01/find-the-coaching-in-criticism
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2014). To Get Honest Feedback, Leaders Need to Ask. https://hbr.org/2014/02/to-get-honest-feedback-leaders-need-to-ask
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2017). The Leadership Challenge (6th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2023). The Leadership Challenge (7th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2020). The Value of 360-Degree Feedback. https://www.leadershipchallenge.com/LeadershipChallenge/media/SiteFiles/assets/whitepapers/the-value-of-360-degree-feedback-whitepaper.pdf