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One key ingredient of learning leadership from experience is reflection upon that experience based on feedback. Powerful feedback and productive reflection, however much invoked, are not that easy to get right. Especially in the beginning, they require time, careful consideration and a conscious approach to get something out of it.
Improving leadership feedback and reflection
In our experience, there are the six common issues with feedback and reflection for leadership development, or behavior change in general – in turn informing practical advise on how to address them.
Only rely on your boss for feedback. This may have some merit in that it uncovers supervisor expectations in strongly hierarchical organizations. And it may help to synchronize your development agenda with performance management practices (a.k.a box ticking against a pre-defined competency model). However, there will be many other potential sources for feedback, such as peers, coaches, team members. So first and quite basically, you need trusted counterparts to engage in feedback conversations to enable reflection. Your personal relationships and networks on-the-job can be the basis for this, as can be dedicated resources such as leadership coaching.
Make feedback conversations an unfocused exchange of observations and thoughts. Instead, you should focus your attention on where you see issues and developmental priorities. Have a goal in mind when you gather feedback. This shouldn’t prevent you from hearing surprising observations or gain new perspectives. But you should have your priorities in mind as you reflect on your practice.
Let time water down observations and insights. Yes, professional life can be a hell of a ride. Most of the time, short term priorities will compete with your developmental agenda. Just be aware that reflection on practice is most effective when done right after the action, that is when impressions are fresh and details can be retrieved from working memory.
Lack of preparation. Do prepare and that means: have a structured process in mind. Ideally you commit your counterpart to this process by explicitly designing the session accordingly. For example, this involves finding an appropriate setting in terms of space and time, and agreeing on a high-level agenda for the conversation up-front.
A gap to practice and ‘applied action’. Don’t just ponder the input you received – rather, and to the extend the inputs are applicable to your practice, use the tailwind from your feedback process and experiment with your insights at the next possible occasion.
Keeping the glass half empty. Too often, feedback is focused on failures or “areas for improvement” (even if introduced by some things ‘I liked’, and that is helpful in any case). However, full-blown successes are equally valuable for feedback and reflection, if not more. Reflection upon success allows to uncover factors and contributions and may serve to strengthen those factors in a next iteration.
As part of our Leadership Development Kit, we have developed a tool and concise worksheet to facilitate powerful feedback and reflection serving leadership development. Preview the Kit clicking on the link below and download the Leadership Development Canvas: