Leadership is like Addiction. You have to admit you have a problem before you start to get better.

A few weeks ago we were fortunate to be given an email from an executive level manager in a company that we work with. It is one of the most remarkable examples of Leadership we have seen.

The edited excerpt from the email…

“I really thought I had been doing a pretty freaking good job. 

I didn’t realise till the last couple of weeks just how bad a job I had been doing.  Nobody is happy, no one has direction and apparently communication sucks and all signs point to me being the cause.

I really do want to do better.”

The email was to his boss.

We cannot recall another example of an Executive facing the truth with this degree of courage and humility. It was an excellent example of what it really takes to be a leader. No one gets it right all the time and regardless of how many books you read or how much advice you receive it is sometimes only the brutality of experience that brings home the real lessons.

What triggered the email was some particularly frank feedback this Leader had received…and how this differed with his own view of the world.  After taking some time to reflect on what had been said, he decided to commit to change…and the email to his boss was a first step.

Your only friend on the leadership journey is feedback. As difficult as it is to accept at times it is the only path to improvement. 

Here are four avenues of feedback we recommend you try.
1. Feedback from your Team.

Clearly your team (direct reports) is the first stop. They are the ones you’re leading and their opinions are pivotal. It is not always easy to get good feedback from the team. Some maybe reluctant to be critical, others will want to win your favour and feed you BS. Certainly you should ask and be genuine in your request, but you might also consider finding a way to get the feedback anonymously – this allows some to be more frank.

2. Feedback from your peers. 

In addition to your team, feedback from those who work beside you will also be important. They will be looking from a different perspective. Are you delivering results?  Do you collaborate well? Do you exhibit “Silo behavior”? What are you like to work with? What is your one problematic behavior? (Everyone has one!).

3. Personal Profile.

We are wired with our own set or personal strengths and weaknesses and naturally they impact how we lead. Getting a behavior profile of your leadership strengths and struggles is invaluable. These are easily available and incredibly valuable (we often use rightpath.com). If you decide to do this exercise as a team…a facilitator is helpful to keep the discussion objective.  It is also an excellent process to help hone in on your “one problematic behavior”

4. Find an Experienced Leader you Trust.

Finally find an experienced leader or mentor you trust. Someone you can discuss all this feedback with, someone who can give you sound guidance. This step is critical because you will sometimes be too close to the situation to decide on the path to improvement.

There is of course one fundamental necessity for all this to work, your own personal courage and humility. As the Executive did in our opening remarks, feedback can be tough so approach it with an open mind and a willing heart.

Leadership is like addiction…you have to admit you have a problem before you start to get better.

Have a great week!

Martin West and Mark Bragg