In all the communication coaching that we do, one question seems to come up all the time. “How do I get my leader to realize he/she needs some coaching as well?” Most leaders are really good at identifying your areas of possible improvement. But the very best ones are also good at identifying their areas of possible improvement. If your leader is not one who does that well, how do we help her/him take a good look in the mirror?
This is a big topic, too big to be discussed to completion in a single blog post. But the overarching themes throughout should always be trust and respect. Instead of your focus being, “How can I get my leader to take my feedback” perhaps we should adjust the question slightly to, “How can I build a relationship built on trust so that she/he will be willing to hear what I have to say?”
Giving feedback effectively, in any direction on the org chart, requires a strong foundation of trust and respect. If that foundation is not there, then the feedback won’t be received well, no matter what else you try.
But, if you really need some feedback to be delivered effectively, here are a few things that will help:
- Every leader tends to have a person or a small group of people that they trust. Figure out who those people are, because they will be your best pipeline into the leader’s ear. Senior leaders won’t take feedback from just anyone and everyone. But they will take it from a trusted advisor. If it can’t be you, figure out who it can be.
- Any feedback message needs to be crafted with respect. This is true no matter who it is going to, but especially if it is being given to someone above you on the organizational chart. If you find yourself overly focused on giving the bad feedback, and less focused on having a functional dialogue, then that may be a red flag that you are approaching the conversation with the wrong mindset.
- Some senior leaders will be open to the idea that they need to do something better. But many won’t. If your leader is legitimately interested in self-improvement, then the message can be, “This will make you a better/more effective leader.” But other senior leaders will not entertain the possibility that they can be better. In those situations, you might be able to get the executive to take on some skill building or professional development for the entire team, with the leader participating, as a way to “set the tone for the rest of the team.” Even if they don’t see it as professional development for themselves, if we can simply get them to participate, for the good of the team, you may see some positive results.
- If the situation is critical, consider finding a way to go above your leader, so that the feedback can come down from above, from your leader’s leader. This is hard to navigate, because getting caught going around or above someone you report to will cause big trust issues. I know I would hate having someone on my team go around me. But if I’m just not hearing the message, the people who work with me might have no choice. Choose this step carefully, discreetly and respectfully.
- Figure out the types of things that can get your leader into a good mood, and a good frame of mind for listening. Is it a little humor to start? Is it some modest (but not overly annoying) flattery? Is it some form of gratitude? This is no different from effective interactions with any person… you always want to know how to get someone into a comfortable place of listening.
Your relationship with your leader is similar to all other relationships you will have in the workplace. The greater the level of trust and respect that is shown, the more likely that the relationship will be built upon honesty and open communication. If your relationship is not built on those things, you have little chance of successfully delivering an unflattering message.
Have a great day.
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