Honest Feedback

A lesson I'm learning: The higher you go on an organizational chart, the harder it is to get honest feedback.

Depending on the person he or she is talking to, leaders at higher levels in organizations are most likely to get feedback from the extreme ends of the spectrum.

One group of people looks at high-level leaders with unbridled skepticism. They don't normally give face-to-face feedback, but take every opportunity they can to snipe at the leader and the things he or she does. The other group of people give nothing but praise. Although they are more likely to give feedback directly to the leader, they're often no less biased. They are much more fun to hear from as a leader, but not any more helpful.

Often people within an organization are shy about giving honest feedback to a leader higher on the organizational chart than them, especially when the feedback is less than positive. They fear, often legitimately (unfortunately), that they'll be viewed as insubordinate or as if they are not being "team players."

Leaders have to work incredibly hard to get honest feedback.

I read a story the other day about George Washington, who maximized the chance he would get honest feedback during the Revolutionary War by asking several sources, from his own soldiers to ordinary citizens, to give him feedback prior to moving forward in critical battles. When it sought feedback, he would almost always attribute the particular strategy he favored to someone else because he wanted to know what people really thought. Washington knew he needed to remove himself and his role from the discussion as much as possible if he was going to receive the kind of feedback he needed.

It's a great strategy. I'm interested in hearing from some of you who lead (or have led) in situations where you were higher-up in organizations. What strategies do you have for receiving honest feedback when it's hard to come by?


Brandon Buie said...

My strategy is simple. Marry a girl both smarter and more spiritually mature than you, then listen to her feedback.

Phil Johnson said...

Ask mom.

Kim said...

Short of giving opportunity for anonymous feedback, the best way to get real feedback that can be interacted with is to be the kind of leader with whom there is no doubt the info won't be used to harbor a grudge. This takes a lot of declaration of your values and transparency and gospel dependence. - Kim