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Receiving Honest Feedback When You are the Head of the Organization

December 02 2019 - by Dr. Lois Parkes, Leadership Development and Institutional Strengthening Specialist

In recent times, I have had the opportunity to work and interact with a number of senior leaders across the Caribbean region. A common theme that emerged for all these leaders, particularly those at the top of the hierarchy of their organizations, is that it can be very challenging for top leaders to receive honest feedback from their staff, either about their own leadership or what is occurring in the organization. This occurs for a number of reasons.

One is that, unfortunately, many persons will seek to try to impress and gain favour with the top leader, by spreading gossip, and sowing seeds of ill-will, to push their own personal agendas. This is not honest feedback, and if mistaken for honest feedback, can lead to an atmosphere of discord, should the Head act on this information. Second, your staff might simply fear giving you feedback, particularly if it is not very favourable, because they believe it will not be well- received, and lead to negative repercussions.

So what is a senior leader to do? Not being able to receive honest feedback would result in a denial of opportunities for increased self-awareness and growth, both personally and for the organization. Here are some recommendations for how to ensure that you can get that precious, honest feedback:

  1. Ask yourself whether you are in fact creating the environment to receive honest feedback. Are you making deliberate attempts to get feedback? How do you manage your responses to negative feedback? Does the team have evidence that you have followed up on any past feedback? If feedback results in negative reactions or are completely ignored all the time, then your team will eventually stop providing you with feedback.
  2. Have 1 or 2 trusted advisors. Recently a retired leader of a global organization shared with me that he had 1 team member, who he entrusted to give him honest feedback about things that were not working well, and when he might be losing his strategic focus. The trusted advisor has to be someone who is not afraid to speak truth to power, and who has yours and the organization’s interests at heart.
  3. Follow through on recommendations. This is not to say that one can act on every suggestion given. However, if your staff has never seen any evidence of you acting on any of their recommendations at all, then they will cease to provide same.

We would love to hear from you. Let us know if you have any other recommendations on how senior leaders can receive honest feedback.