Effective Leaders Know How to Ask for Feedback

Put yourself (and your leadership) out there!

By Bill Berry  ::  Leader Development

image: 'There is no failure, only feedback.'

This is a guest blog post from velocity guru Bill Berry, who leads Strategic Financial Management at Tacoma Power.

Shortly after starting a job my new boss asked me to take on a major organizational change initiative. To get all the work done, I asked members of my staff to play critical roles. Their ideas, support, time and effort were pivotal.

The project launched on schedule and seemed successful. I thought everything was great!

No, things weren't great!

In the process of getting the new system off the ground, I had created some problems for my team. The biggest? I was totally unaware there were any problems.

Even after seeing some warning signs, I didn’t have a clue. I asked people what was wrong and didn’t understand the answers.

Finally, I asked a trusted consultant to come in and interview everyone in the group, including me. Her brief report described the main themes and kept their input confidential.

During our meeting to review the report, she helped me understand what the team was feeling. The most compelling concerns were widely shared. Some of it was hard to listen to.

I had broken my team!

At the end of our meeting, the consultant gave me some great feedback: “When you called me you said you didn’t know what was going on. Well, now you know. And now you have an opportunity to take action.”

We shared the report, including the consultant’s recommendations, at a full team meeting and the discussion confirmed her findings. With everyone on the same page, we were able to get enough buy-in to follow almost all of her recommendations. Focus, time and effort helped us turn things around.

How can you fix something you don’t know is broken?

Having an expert dive into our team issues was risky because my warts would be (and were) exposed for all to see.

It was also risky for another reason. Armed with the team’s candid criticisms, I had to change. My approach and behavior needed to be visibly different. If not, things would only get worse.

Regardless of risk, receiving feedback I could understand, believe and act on was essential.

Try These Ideas for Seeking Feedback

Ask Your Team — At least once a year, have your team answer these two questions about you:

  • What are you doing that is working well?
  • What could you improve?

Ask someone on the team to facilitate the group’s discussion and summarize key themes in a confidential manner. Make it safe for them by leaving the room. When you return, listen carefully and seek clarification by asking for examples.

Ask Colleagues for Advice — Before ending one-on-one meetings with members of your team, customers and stakeholders:

  • Ask: “What advice do you have for me?”


  • Say: “Give me some advice.”

If the person struggles finding an answer, that’s okay. Silence is your friend so resist the temptation to step in. Just wait. You’ll be amazed at their sage advice!

Feedback is a gift!

How you respond is critical so be sure to:

  • Summarize what you’ve heard and make sure they agree you’ve got it right.
  • Ask for suggested next steps.
  • Thank them for the candid feedback, and especially having the courage to tell you what you might not like to hear.
  • Cherish the gift you’ve just been given.
  • Then follow up by taking action.

Takeaway: Showing Vulnerability Helps Build Trust

Do you know what’s harder than being tough? Being vulnerable.

Asking for and receiving feedback places you in a vulnerable position because you don’t know what you’re going to hear and the feedback may be critical of you.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni, explains why taking the risk is good, and even necessary:

The most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first. This requires that a leader risk losing face in front of the team, so that subordinates will take the same risk themselves. What is more, team leaders must create an environment that does not punish vulnerability. Even well-intentioned teams can subtly discourage trust by chastising one another for admissions of weakness or failure. Finally, displays of vulnerability on the part of a team leader must be genuine; they cannot be staged. One of the best ways to lose the trust of a team is to feign vulnerability in order to manipulate the emotions of others.” (emphasis added)

For more insight about vulnerability-based trust, read The Five Dysfunctions and The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business, both great books by Lencioni.

How do you ask for feedback? Comments welcome!

About the author

Bill Berry

Bill Berry

Strategic Financial Management

Bill is an innovative leader with a passion for tackling strategic business challenges. He loves to build strong teams and apply great ideas to create success for his organization. Bill has experience in the CFO role for power and water utilities and as an investment banker. His team at Tacoma Power is using OKRs to pursue excellence, make an impact and thrive. More info about Bill is available on his LinkedIn Profile.

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