By Dale S. Rose, Ph.D. and Sarita Upadhyay
2020 will likely provide the toughest test any leader will face in their career. Sudden change in work methods, rapidly shifting supply chains and staffing, uncertainty in the regulatory environment, and the hard whiplash of consumer behavior are all challenges that have become commonplace. As if any one of these challenges isn’t enough by itself, virtually every organization and every leader has had to respond to a seemingly perpetual whirlwind of all these elements.
Ask any leader, and you’ll get an earful about how the events of 2020 have kept them on their toes. And yet, if you ask them how well they are doing, most have no idea if they are succeeding or struggling at leadership.
We are still living through a pandemic, and protests for social justice continue, but by now most organizations have adjusted to a new normal. While earnings calls for public companies still rarely include any clear guidance, most companies at least have some sense of what the next few months might look like operationally. Coworkers have had many months to figure out how to work together via live video feeds from their kitchens and living rooms, and yet we’re still in the midst of the twister that is 2020. And while leaders continue to do their best under trying circumstances, not nearly enough leaders really know how well they are managing through it all.
And, of course, we’re not out of the woods yet. The toughest may be yet to come. Which makes it a perfect time to give leaders feedback on their performance. It is a mistake for leaders to take on a challenge of this magnitude without taking stock of how they’re doing. How else will they improve?
To get a handle on issues leaders might face in getting feedback, we looked at the 360 Feedback reports from a handful of leaders we support here at 3D Group. Below are a few insights we gleaned from these data that suggest this is exactly the right time to give leaders feedback.
Distorted self-perceptions may send leaders down the wrong path.
Comparing our own perception of our behavior to others’ perceptions of the same behavior is particularly important right now. This provides an important contrast in a leader’s internal thought process and how others perceive the resulting behavior. In one example, a leader heard from his team that he may be waiting too long to communicate with others about difficult circumstances. The leader was waiting until he had complete information, not wanting to create even more uncertainty. Much to his surprise, others viewed this approach as a lack of transparency that was eroding trust in his leadership. This kind of blind spot is so critical to uncover and correct before his distorted perceptions leave him in a cloud of mistrust with his team. Lucky for him, this was an easy fix – share information more often, even if it is not complete.
Remote work is hard, but leading remotely is really hard.
It is clear by now that many parts of the world are not going to be returning to enclosed offices anytime soon. After four months of remote work, it’s important to take a look at how working remotely has impacted a leader’s success. For example, one leader at a client company received 360 Feedback about the importance of continuing to build new partnerships – something that she had excelled at before March 2020, but had put a pause on with the lack of in-person interaction intrinsic to remote work. But with the knowledge that this ‘distanced’ reality is going to continue, she was encouraged to find other ways of making connections. Getting feedback on this issue is now giving her time to make these connections, use her existing network, and, pushing her to find new and creative ways of expanding her network. This feedback is critical to her career: It will ensure she remains productive during the rest of her time working from home and will keep her connected to others across the organization.
Nothing is going well….so why would a leader want to hear more bad news?
Even in good times leaders often worry that getting honest feedback will be hard because it will contain “bad news.” Because these leaders assume it will contain bad news, a common reaction in times of stress is to avoid feedback. Now more than ever leaders may be convinced they are failing. As a result, they are spending time and energy on self-doubt and re-thinking their tactics and decisions. We’ve seen an astonishing number of cases in the last few months where leaders’ self-doubt was quelled when they took the leap and asked for feedback from employees – only to find it was overwhelmingly positive. For example, 360 Feedback from one leader showed that she thought her approach to strategy and team leadership was well below what it should be. She was dwelling on how she had handled recent furloughs, prioritized projects, and managed workflow within the team. Her feedback report showed the opposite of what she expected. The team’s feedback helped her see that they viewed strategic thinking and team leadership as a strength. One colleague even commented, “She translated… strategy into tactics for her team and continued to motivate us all during a challenging time…” This kind of positive feedback refocuses leaders on what really matters, reinforces the behaviors they are doing well, and, perhaps most importantly, increases their self-confidence. This leader can now move on and put her focus on areas that do need attention. And, she no doubt rests a little easier at night.
Leaders have managed through six months of intense volatility, and they are likely facing at least six more. But before leaders navigate the rest of the storm, let’s help them to see if they’re on the right path: Let’s give them the feedback they need to succeed.
Dale S. Rose, Ph.D., is the president and co-founder of 3D Group. He is an expert in leadership development and assessment-based human resources solutions. He recently co-edited The Handbook of Strategic 360 Feedback and authored the 2020 study, Current Practices in 360 Feedback, 6th Edition.