How to get genuine feedback when you’re the boss

Kevin thinks he is a great boss. He loves his work, is a passionate advocate for staff, cares deeply for them, and is known for his ability to smooth over the toughest issues. He has a silver tongue and is wheeled in to deal with the most volatile clients and staff. He has an even keel and nothing rocks his boat.

Kevin drives his staff crazy and no one will tell him! He is incredibly inefficient, struggles to finish work, and as a result everyone else is under pressure as deadlines slip past day after day. It’s costing the organisation hours in lost productivity and seething frustration.

No one will give Kevin feedback because he’s the boss and they fear it’s a career limiting move. Kevin determines all promotions and assignments. The staff think, “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

Kevin is in a double-bind: his positional power and the social bias towards men as authority figures skew feedback. He can never really be certain if the feedback he receives is genuine, or obsequious.

And deep down he fears being seen as incompetent. His work defines who he is as a person and criticism of his performance feels like an attack on his very identity.

So everyone limps along, making up for Kevin’s shortcomings, and slowly eroding goodwill and organisational performance.

And yet Kevin knows feedback is the elixir of leadership. Truth telling in the form of genuine feedback expands awareness and capacity. He can’t fix what he doesn’t know.

So how can Kevin break the cycle of delusion?

He can play the long game and the short game.

The long game is to create a culture where truth telling and accountability is embedded in cultural norms and systems. It means leading by being real, owning failures, sharing lessons with humility, and making it safe for people to speak up. This takes repeated positive experiences to build trust.

The short game is to transform his relationship to feedback through immersion in an A-Team: a cohort of peers that have got his back and give him tough love.

An A-Team is best formed from individuals outside of your immediate personal and professional circle, so there are no vested interests - just a pure intention to help you improve and grow. This kind of group is your number one development crucible! Here you can show up, warts and all, and be supported to be the best version of yourself.

Have you got an A-Team? Where do you go for honest feedback? Are you playing the long game or the short game in your professional development?

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