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  • Tamar Balkin

How do you know if you are a good leader?

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

Michael Jackson,  Man in the Mirror (click here for the song)

Regular readers are aware of the link between a leader's self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and the wellbeing of their employees (click here for the blog). This week I want to focus on how leaders can gain useful honest feedback, in order to continue to improve their leadership capabilities and in turn the wellbeing of others.

“Known weaknesses don’t get you in as much trouble as blind spots”

Lombardo and  Eichinger

In my opinion, the  best way to continually improve your leadership capability, is to take an evidence based approach to feedback. (For a reminder on evidence based practice please read my blog). 

So how do you get useful feedback from others?

Bravery is essential as we have both a visceral reaction to negative feedback, and a tendency to stop associating with people who give us negative feedback.  Therefore, it’s is essential to be open to both praise and criticism and to the possibility that you will need to change some behaviour. 

Select the right people to provide feedback:

  • Fundamentally they need to be kind but they also have your best interest at heart.

  • Your relationship with them is based on mutual trust and respect

  • They have sufficient exposure to the behaviour you want feedback on

  • They have a clear picture of what success looks like.

  • They are willing and able to be brutally honest.

  • You have seen them give good feedback. 

  • Trust your gut instinct.

Formulate a hypothesis, based on your level of self awareness and feedback to date, take some time to decide what behaviour you want to understand from each person’s perspective. Pick one or two things, you will be more successful if you are focused on changing one  or two aspects of your behaviour. Take time to prepare the exact question you want people to answer based on your hypothesis of what is going on.  eg: “I think I come across as x when I meet with clients how does this come across to you?”.  Whilst this may seem uncomfortable, try to remember that asking for general feedback is confusing for others and unhelpful for you. Decide how often you want feedback. My recommendation, to make the process worthwhile, is get feedback for 30 minutes, once a month for three months. This enables others to adequately observe your behaviour over time. Do not be concerned that this is a large commitment. Approach people, and give them the context and purpose of the feedback and the commitment you are asking from them.  Remember to tell them you are keen for specific examples of when you are  and are not behaving in a particular way.

How do you receive feedback with the grace to commit to  action?

  • Brace self for worst case scenario. 

  • Listen with curiosity.

  • Probe for clarification.

  • Do not not react or argue.  

  • Tune into the valuable elements.

  • Let it rattle around for a few days, especially if it’s surprising. 

  • Integrate it with other data.

What about assessments?

There are too many questionnaires on the market for me to cover in this blog, what really matters is how you differentiate between them. Firstly, ensure that what is being measured is a concept that is properly defined, researched and job relevant. Secondly, make sure that there is research to demonstrate that the test actually measures what it is supposed to. (If in doubt email me).  You want to ensure that you are  completing  a relevant evidence based, valid and reliable assessment, and that you will be given detailed verbal feedback.

Where does coaching fit in?

Readers may be aware that I was first employed as an executive coach by a wise businessman who knew that individual leadership coaching maximises the benefits of detailed employee feedback.  As improving leadership capability and self-awareness is the impetus for my coaching referrals, interpreting  and acting on feedback is an essential component of all all my coaching programs. Typically, a manager or appropriate key sponsor are invited to attend the first coaching session to provide, support, context, set expectations and encourage sharing of goals and live feedback.  In the middle of the coaching program they return to discuss progress. Finally, at the end of coaching the reenter to reflect on achievements and set goals for the future. In addition, during the coaching program, as appropriate, I use assessments and I teach my clients to source on going  feedback.

“Feedback that taps into our existing insecurities cuts like a knife”

Tasha Eurich

So what will you do with the feedback you collect?

To this day I remember the look of mortification on my clients  face when his boss uttered the following words. “ I will know coaching has worked when people stop coming into my office to complain about Bill”. He was stunned because he had no idea that his enthusiasm, and quick problem solving were causing such angst to his peers and direct reports.  After a while  he was able to realise how fortunate he felt that his boss took the time to support his leadership development  At all times in the feedback process it is essential to remind yourself that collecting, analysing and acting on feedback requires objectivity, support and time.

"Who you become is not about the traits you have but rather what you decide to do with them”

Adam Grant


References: Gino, F. (2016). Research: We Drop People Who Give Us Critical Feedback. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: [Accessed 14 Sep. 2020]. Eurich, T. (2017). Insight the power of self-awareness in a a self-deluded world. London Macmillan. Dweck, C.S. (2016). Mindset : the new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books. Lombardo, M.M. and Eichinger, R.W. (2006). FYI : for your improvement : a guide for development and coaching. Minneapolis, Mn: Lominger Ltd.

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