It is mid-August. We are back from our summer vacations. The kids are heading off to school. Most of us are diving back into agendas and goals for the last part of the calendar year. We are eager to achieve and end the year well.
So, it is at this time of year that many of the people I work with start asking me a question: “What is one thing I can do that will rapidly upgrade my leadership impact on others?”
Happy to help. Here it is: Get raw, trusted feedback at the most practical level.
Here’s why. Most of us get a good deal of feedback early in our work lives, yet as we rise that kind of feedback tends to melt away. We rise in authority. We rise in stature. More and more of the people around us work for us. They wouldn’t dare risk offending us by offering raw feedback. Nor would our friends. Nor would our wider circle of associates. So, it is possible for us to go through our entire senior leadership lives without anyone holding up a mirror for us so we can see the practical things that might be limiting our impact.
Let me take a small and almost silly example from my father’s life. Now, he was a military academy grad and a decorated soldier. A fine man and leader, really. Still, he was a good old Georgia boy and he had some down-home habits. One of them was that when he was thinking, he would jam the knuckle of his bent index finger into the lower side of his nose.
Sounds unimportant, doesn’t it? Well, one day a general told him that his work was stellar but that he had to stop giving briefings with his finger up his nose. He was shocked and told me this with a laugh. It turned out that while he might be talking about vital strategic matters, he looked like he had a finger up his nose. Some folks in the briefing could barely stifle their laughter—and all while dad could be discussing troop movements in Vietnam or intelligence matters behind the Iron Curtain. (Dad was the G2 in Berlin during the 1970s.)
Now, I remember dad saying how grateful he was for that feedback, embarrassing as it was that it came from someone above him in rank. He would have much preferred to get that feedback from a buddy who might have said it harshly but still kept him from this distracting habit.
It’s a small example. Yet ask yourself: what might you be doing at a practical level that hinders your impact? Do you have a problem with interrupting? Do you have an angry, off-putting manner? Do you mumble so no one can understand you? Do you drift off from conversations? Are you too busy thinking to listen? Do you smell? Do you fiddle with your clothes all the time? Are you a rambling speaker? Are you always late? What?
Here’s what I can tell you. You don’t know. Really, there’s stuff you don’t know, and unless you put yourself in a position to receive honest, raw feedback, you never will know. So create some way for people who know you and who watch you to tell you what you need to know—both at a practical and then a broader level. This is one of the great arts of leadership—and it’s a dang hard thing to do. But do it anyway! It’s how we improve.
That’s it. Let’s all be better leaders. Our times our desperate and the world is waiting!