Don't Ask, Don't Know: Actively Eliciting Feedback From Employees Builds Better Leaders

Effective leadership is based on ongoing input and feedback. Where 20 years ago managers rarely asked for input, today effective leaders are regularly seeking and receiving employee feedback. Leaders elicit cooperation from employees and other individuals when they listen to them. To move employees forward, leaders first identify their needs by asking for their feedback. Identifying employee needs through feedback allows leaders to modify their behavior to serve the best interests of their employees and unit.

Feedback is an effective communication mechanism that enhances productivity and motivation. Leaders use it to create a positive sense of direction that increases efficiency and reduces stress among employees. It empowers employees and gives them ownership in both the ideas and direction driving the organization.

This is important for leaders to appreciate, as studies have shown that employees informed of the organization's goals and progress are more productive and better able to persevere under difficult circumstances. These are indispensable qualities in the current business climate, as in challenging times the informed employee is more likely to work closely with leaders to resolve problems and stabilize situations. Sharing information rather than withholding it enhances a sense of positive, coordinated teamwork.

The essence of leadership is to persuade others rather than control them. Persuasion is not a one-way process but a continuous feedback loop from employee to leader. The loop incorporates listening, understanding the employee's point of view and perspectives, and positively responding to their needs. In doing this, the effective leader and persuader is rarely able to change another individual's behavior or point of view without altering their own approach and perceptions.

When leaders communicate they are in essence selling their ideas to others. To effectively accomplish this they must:

  • Create a dialogue around their idea or concept.
  • Convince others their idea is valid.
  • Actively interact with individuals to brainstorm and solicit new ideas, insights, and viewpoints.
  • Build a relationship with them.

This is an extremely productive chain of feedback. It demonstrates to employees that the leader values and respects them. If a leader has failed to persuade others, they have also failed to understand their needs and concerns.

Leaders solicit their employees' feedback for a number of reasons. Firstly, as imperfect people make decisions, feedback provides continuous testing of an idea or concept against actual conditions and underlying expectations. When leaders solicit feedback, they are asking their employees to question the assumptions behind the idea or concept, examine the expectations connected with it, and assess the realistic impact it could have on their organization. This amounts to a mutual search for solutions yielding shared advantages to all parties.

The use of feedback by leaders also enhances their effectiveness. The Drucker Institute reported that leaders become more effective and are perceived accordingly by their managers, employees, and superiors when they:

  • Ask for input from their employees.
  • Learn from the feedback in a positive and non-defensive attitude.
  • Follow up in a focused and efficient manner.

The pitfall to avoid is the soliciting of feedback from employees, then reacting emotionally and negatively to any bad news or information, in essence "shooting the messenger." This only serves to quickly close down communication and replace it with an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia.

Excerpt: Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about developing effective communications techniques, refer to Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions.

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