Are you making the impact you think you are? Do you wonder how people perceive you? As a leader, you’re undoubtedly curious about how you’re doing, and like most people you get feedback on an irregular basis. In fact, you’re lucky if you get useful feedback even once a year.
No need to wonder anxiously until your next performance review; here are 3 easy steps to conduct your own leadership skills evaluation:
1. Set the criteria
What leadership skills does the company expect? Are there competencies outlined for your position? What leadership skills have you heard about that resonate with you? Name the leadership skills you want to strengthen and make sure you have behavioral definitions for each; in other words, specify what those skills look like on the ground, day to day, as you do your job. Make those behaviors both your goals and the criteria against which you’ll ask others to evaluate you.
Stick your neck out and invite people to give you feedback on those behaviors. Be prepared: most people would rather be anonymous, say nothing, or just complain about you in the restroom. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get much in the beginning, especially from peers and direct reports. Your boss should be able to give you something useful, however, even if he or she is not the best at it. These three tips will help your asking be more fruitful:
- Give them a heads up. Tell your boss, directs, peers, etc., you’re going to start asking for feedback regularly, tell them why you’re doing it, how you’re going to do it (via email, in person, etc.), and stress how much you appreciate their taking the time to respond. Invite them to be as candid as they feel comfortable, emphasizing how helpful their input will be to making you a better boss/team member/direct report.
- Be specific. Ask people about one or two particular skills, or ask for feedback on a specific project, or for a specific period of time. A blanket, “How am I doing?” is likely to elicit polite reassurances, which make you feel great, but are not exceedingly helpful.
- Don’t ask too often. You run the risk of wearing people out or appearing insecure if you ask for feedback every week or every month. Once a quarter should be the absolute maximum. If you like the idea of gathering feedback after every project, formalize that process and make it multi-directional, rather than only encouraging feedback from others to you. (Bonus hint: this is a super way to ensure you will give regular feedback to everyone else as well. It also sets up a feedback-rich culture, which is crucial to good performance.)
3. Thank, Rinse & Repeat
Always thank folks who send feedback your way, even if you didn’t like what they sent. In most cases, they’re taking as much risk in telling you what they think as you are in asking them. The greatest thank you is to let them know how you’re putting their suggestions into practice. Then, when time comes for you to ask for feedback again, they can let you know whether they see a difference.
There are definitely more robust ways to conduct a leadership skills evaluation, usually involving a 360° survey, some other assessments, and maybe an executive coach. If you don’t have access to those the DIY method is a great alternative. Instead of leading in a vacuum, you’ll know more about where you stand.
Dr. Fish is a consulting psychologist whose writing and work focus exclusively on helping individuals and teams lead more effectively. Her firm, Fish Executive Leadership Group, LLC counts among its clients everything from Fortune 50 corporations to small, privately-held professional service firms.