Organizations can put together great plans, but without the right leadership—and culture change—those plans often don’t become a reality. I’ve written before about the competencies organizations need: a nimble organizational culture (see The New Cultural Competency: Ability To ‘Turn On A Dime’), a competitive metrics-based culture (see Creating A Culture Where Metrics-Based Management Can Succeed), and a culture that can reinvent itself to succeed with value-based reimbursement (see Building A Culture Of Performance).
Part of the challenge is that the leadership skills and organizational culture that were successful in the past are not a great fit for the future. The big change is complexity. The new environment has moved the health and human service field from complicated to complex—and complexity demands different skill sets. It requires adaptive leaders that can bridge current operations with entrepreneurship. These are leaders that can deal with constant “creative” conflict, can thrive with uncertainty, and can manage risk—while innovating and managing a highly regulated set of services at the same time. (For more on complexity leadership, see my presentation at last year’s OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat, Leading Your Strategy Development & Your Team In Uncertain Times.)
Right now, good leaders are asking themselves the questions: Am I “up to the task” of taking my organization to the next level? Can I lead an organizational culture transformation? Am I the leader to take my organization through the coming market turbulence? And, if I can, what skills do I need to add—or compensate for?
How do you answer these questions? With constructive (and blunt) feedback. Feedback comes in all forms—like 360-degree feedback from those around you in your organization, feedback from trusted peers, feedback from coaches and mentors, feedback from board members, feedback from subordinates, feedback from customers, etc. But feedback is only worth what you do with it. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Find The Coaching In Criticism, provided some good advice on how to use the feedback you get to improve your personal leadership skills.
Know your tendencies—The Temple of Apollo at Delphi is remembered for its credo, “Know thyself.” And it’s also good advice for executives who should know how they tend to react to feedback. Do you personalize feedback? Do you overact? Do you ignore it? Your ingrained reflexes can help-or hinder-the value of the feedback. Knowing, mastering, and improving those reflexes is fundamental for getting the most out of feedback.
Disentangle the “what” from the “who”—Great ideas and feedback can come from anywhere in the organization, but only if executives let that happen. Don’t immediately discount feedback because it comes from a staff member or a member of your team who you don’t like personally. Examine the message and see if there is some “grain of truth” in their comments, and then work towards a solution. But to get a broad swath of feedback, executive teams need to foster an organizational culture that allows team members to provide feedback without fear of reprisals.
Understand feedback vs. coaching—Feedback is evaluative, while coaching is consultative. Both have value in improving your leadership skills. Feedback without coaching can leave you confused about how to move forward or correct the problem. Coaching without feedback can leave you confused about your actual performance. Balance both in your own personal development. And don’t think you’re beyond coaching—everyone has something they need to work on.
Unpack the feedback—Keep in mind that not all feedback is valid, or useful. Collecting feedback is like fishing with a big net. You need to think through what is valuable for your development. This evaluative process is essential to put together a personal development plan.
Ask for just one thing—Everyone is busy, and often the people who can provide us with the most useful feedback are invariably the busiest. So ask for specific feedback. Not the global “what do you think of me in the CEO role?” question. Rather, ask clarifying questions about your specific skills and actions, and you’ll be more likely to get incisive and useful feedback.
Engage in small experiments—Taking feedback and converting it to actual changes in your leadership style and putting it into action is difficult (and sometimes, risky). If possible, design small ways to test out ideas that you have from feedback. Consider it a real-time experiment. Move fast and make room for mistakes. Fast failure allows us to move on to other options.
For executives (and organizations) in the health and human service field, the next couple of years will be a challenge for even the best leader. Most executives need an active plan to build their leadership skills for the decade ahead, and using feedback effectively is a key best practice. Don’t forget, it takes more than one person. You need to surround yourself with the right leadership team—and the team you have may not necessarily be the team you need
For more, and in preparation for our upcoming Executive Leadership Retreat, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:
- Are You Micromanaging Your Organization?
- Passion: A Necessary Ingredient For Leadership
- 75% Of Your Management Team Was Offered Another Job This Year
- Are You A Strategic Thinker?
- Building Your Connection Culture
- Operationalize Your Connection Culture
- Are You ‘Coachable’?
- Communicate Like A Leader
- Developing Female Leaders In Your Organization
- High Turnover, The Other Staffing Issue
And join me at The 2018 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat on September 20 for the session, “Crucial Conversations In Leadership: How To Make Authentic Connections & Get The Feedback You Need To Be A Better Leader”, featuring speaker Laurie Keenan McGarvey, Senior Consultant for Organization Effectiveness, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.