How's My Leadership? Digging Deep to Get Your Employees' True Feelings

Picture of Gina Blitstein Gina Blitstein combines her insight as a fellow small business owner with her strong communication skills, exploring topics that enhance your business efforts. That first-hand knowledge, matched with an insatiable curiosity to know more about just about anything, makes her a well-rounded writer with a sincere desire to engage and inform.

How's My Leadership? Digging Deep to Get Your Employees' True Feelings

They say it can be lonely at the top of an organization. One reason for that is because the structure of a business positions employees as subservient to, rather than equal to, the boss. So there you are, alone, without peers to keep you in significant, candid contact with those who are working for you.

How is a boss to keep a hand on the pulse of the company? Most bosses know it’s important to gather feedback from employees to help them keep abreast of the general temperature of the team. And the most effective bosses go further to actually get specific answers to the question, “How’s my leadership?”

It isn’t enough to simply say that soliciting feedback is a priority. You have to back it up with implemented policies and actions that do more than lend lip service to an “open door policy.” While the anonymity of a suggestion box has its place, so do occasional one-on-one meetings with employees. They don’t, however, go far enough or gather significant or specific information. Really, the best you can hope for with those traditional means is an angry vent or a convenient, hastily conceived agreement. If you really want the lowdown on what your employees think of you, your tactics need to ensure they feel free to let you have it all: the good and the bad.

Let’s discuss means you can employ to break through the surface communication and really get to the heart of what’s on your employees’ minds.

Encourage your employees to “let you have it.” You don’t want a team of yes-(wo)men! Provide them with a forum where they can directly challenge what you have to say, without negative consequences or fear of reprisal. In the interest of honesty, let them tell you that they think a new program is ill-advised, why, and how they would proceed differently. Likewise, encourage direct positive comments, along with rationale for it. Such free communication will help everyone feel they have a voice and a valid opinion within the company and will help those in charge gain a deeper understanding of the individuals who make up their workforce. Of course, the boss has the final say, but at least no one is left feeling misunderstood or unheard.

Keep your eyes and ears wide open. Recognize that, regardless of what your employees say (or don’t say) to your face, they could still be harboring uncommunicated feelings about your leadership. It’s up to you as a strong leader to observes both what people are saying - and not

saying; doing - and not doing. Experience will give you a sense when someone in the ranks is holding back. In cases where you feel you’re not hearing everything particular employees have to say, approach them in an unthreatening manner and mention what you notice. Ask them if they could explain what you think you observe from them. This provides them with a direct opportunity to discuss concerns with you based upon the feedback they are providing, but may not realize they’re providing.

Grow a hard skin and foster an open mind. It’s sometimes difficult to hear the truth; as a strong leader, however, it is what you must do. It’s important not to internalize that which you hear, but to keep it in proper perspective. It’s entirely possible that hearing your own employees being blunt with you and challenging your decisions may make you feel defensive. If that happens, step back and consider how much of your reaction could be your own emotional baggage and insecurities being triggered. Decisions made in light of this realization will be enlightened because they are made with a particular degree of honesty of intention.

Indeed, negative feedback doesn’t mean that your employees dislike working with you or they consider you inept. It simply means that they have perspectives and concerns you may have not have considered. Remember, great leaders are great in more than their own mind!

It’s critical that you take employees’ opinions seriously. Avoid the urge to discount employee feedback, justifying it as something less than it is. If it concerns employees enough to bring it up, it’s worth listening to and deeply considering. To do so will help you avoid getting tunnel vision as the person in charge. Over time, employees’ feedback will figure as prominently in your leadership style as your decisions themselves, making for a true team effort in your company.

It’s a brave leader who will choose to dive deep to discover the answer to the question, “How’s my leadership?” But the rewards are great in developing a sense of mutual respect, trust and mission.

How do you go about getting candid feedback from your employees?

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