Why is it that all the great authors and respected consultants in leadership development, such as Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, John C Maxwell and Marshall Goldsmith, talk about the critical importance of a leader being self-aware, while so many leaders are truly unaware of their strengths and weaknesses…and surprisingly think they are aware!
There are two major contributing factors to this conundrum. First is that humans are naturally inept at giving and receiving effective feedback -- not the feedback that makes you feel warm inside, the uncomfortable feedback that you don’t want to really hear because it’s about your weaknesses.
Secondly, we rely too heavily on assessments: 360’s, personality, performance, high potential assessments for example are all subjective. Results are based on multiple-choice, not on behaviors and actions witnessed in the heat of pressure. Assessments and coaching don’t normally catch us in the act. People do, and should.
It would help to recall that our self-awareness is not completely self-created; the opinions and input from others also contribute to how we view ourselves. This is exactly why feedback is so critical. It is additional data that helps us see us as we really are, setting the stage for improvement.
Remember the time your boss did something that really got under your skin? Perhaps you felt disengaged and as a result your performance dropped. Your boss may have been unaware anything was wrong. Replay this scenario with the lens of an organizational culture where everyone is able to give each other immediate feedback, be it good and bad, regardless of hierarchy, and at that critical point of “being caught in the act.” Imagine the difference in employee engagement and business impact when behaviors can and do change with timely, respectful, and purposeful feedback. Also imagine if these practices were integrated with the corporation’s leadership framework. The person providing the feedback would then be able to note the competency or behavior to which the feedback related, furthering strengthening the connection between behavior and business results.
Learning and line leaders have the power to drive self-awareness throughout the organization when they tackle the feedback challenge. Combining this effort with a simple leadership framework will create sustainable change and unleash workforce potential.
- When everyone at all levels has the knowledge and skills to provide effective feedback, the ability for leaders to develop is accelerated.
- “Catching leaders in the act” enables feedback on real behaviors and decision-making. It is ineffective to rely solely on 360’s and coaching for leadership development.
- Leadership development is for everyone.