How to Get Candid Feedback

Businessmen in discussion at office workstation
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Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, or having self-awareness, is one of the most critical leadership competencies and considered by many to be the single most important predictor of leadership success.

When it comes to assessing how we come across to others, most of us have blind spots. We tend to assess ourselves based on our good intentions, while others assess us on what they actually see and hear.

In order to close the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us, we need feedback. According to management guru Ken Blanchard, “feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

Unfortunately, for managers, especially senior managers, candid feedback is a rare commodity, but it doesn’t have to be. If you really want feedback, there are ways to get it.

Just make sure that when you do get feedback, you listen, keep your mouth shut, and say, “Thank you.”

1. Take a 360 Assessment

360 assessments are surveys, often administered by a third party for a fee. These assessments ask your boss, peers, and employees for ratings and comments regarding your behaviors and or skills. Although some reports are self-explanatory, it’s usually better to have a certified coach help you sort through the results.

2. Try the “Ten to Ten” Technique

First, identify something you want to improve—say leading a meeting, delegating, listening, or conducting a one-on-one. Then, at the end of an interaction with someone, (it only takes a few minutes), ask the question: “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate my listening skills?” If it’s anything less than ten, ask the follow-up question, “What would I need to do for you to rate me a ten?”

It works well because it gives you very specific ideas for improvement, in terms of what’s important to the other person. It opens up dialogue in a non-threatening way, builds trust, and creates a win-win developmental partnership.

3. Ask a Recruiter

Good recruiters make their living sizing candidates up quickly. They can take a look at your resume, and after a 15-minute phone screen, have a pretty good idea about your strengths and weaknesses. You have to ask them for a candid, constructive, and brutally honest assessment. Again, just listen, keep your mouth shut, and say, “Thank you.”

4. Try FeedForward

An alternative to the ten to ten technique. Instead of asking for examples of past behavior, you are asking for advice on how to be more effective in the future. People will be much more comfortable with this, but you get the same constructive information.

5. Watch Yourself on Video

A good way to get feedback on your presentation skills. This used to be a terrifying way to learn about yourself, although in the age of YouTube, perhaps we’re getting used to seeing ourselves on camera. It’s even better if you have a coach or trainer watch with you to point things out and offer tips for improvement. If you have a thick skin, invite a bunch of friends over and break out the popcorn and beer.

6. Take a Leadership Course

Many leadership courses include some kind of assessment feedback. Many include a combination of 360 assessment, personality, and feedback from class participants and the instructor.

7. Take a Validated, Reliable Personality Assessment

Try the Hogan, MBTI, DISC, or others and again, have someone help you interpret the results.

8. Job Interviews

Again, like with getting feedback from a recruiter, you really have to ask in a nice way, and make sure you: listen, keep your mouth shut, and say, “Thank you. Even if you’re not looking for a job, it’s a good idea to go on a practice interview every so often.

9. Ask Your Boss This Question

“Not that I’m going anywhere, but if you had to replace me, what would you look for in the ideal candidate?” This one’s a little risky, because you don’t want to give your boss any ideas, but if you have a lot of confidence, you could pull it off.

10. Ask Your Teenage Kids

We saved this one for last, because it’s the most brutal kind of feedback of all! It’s only for the very brave-hearted and thick-skinned.