Top Executives Need Feedback – Here’s How They Can Get It

The Problem
Subordinates don’t want to offend the boss. Therefore, as you become more senior in an organization, you tend to get less feedback. Over time, you risk growing confused about your development needs and becoming isolated from criticism. While many senior executives do have outside mentors, because they do not directly observe the executive their advice is only as good as the narrative provided and often doesn’t adjust for blind spots or the mentor’s lack of professional familiarity with the executive.

The Solution
Your junior colleagues represent an untapped source of feedback that can help you materially improve your performance. They can also provide valuable input on key strategic decisions. To cultivate a network of junior coaches who are willing to tell you the things you don’t want to hear start by individually “interviewing” at least five direct reports. You need ask only one question: “What advice would you offer to help me improve my effectiveness? Please give me one or two specific and actionable suggestions. I would appreciate your advice.”

These conversations will be awkward at first. The first responses may indicate that you are doing “fine” or even “very well.” It may take time, prodding, and waiting out some uncomfortable silences to convince your subordinates that you are sincere, truly want feedback, and are serious about acting on it. In the course of this initial round of conversations, you may receive some surprising, jarring, but very useful advice.

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