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Discover your blind spots to become a better leader

Effective leaders know and manage themselves in ways that bring out the best in others.
Effective leaders know and manage themselves in ways that bring out the best in others. Flickr Creative Commons

Effective leaders generally have a high degree of self-awareness. They know and manage themselves in ways that bring out the best in others. However, many find it difficult to determine how others feel about working with or for them. Often feedback flows in only one direction: the leader giving team members suggestions for improvement.

Offering unsolicited feedback to the leader may feel like a career-limiting move. Nonetheless, if you are a leader, your team members are actually the customers of your leadership. Without feedback, you may develop blind spots — things everyone knows about you except you.

So what can you do?

Simply ask and listen: Establish listening posts to gather feedback about how others experience your leadership. For example, in an employee review session, ask how you might be a better manager. And then listen.

Or, if you have a large organization, host occasional skip-level gatherings over refreshments with a few people who report to your direct reports. Ask what it’s like to work in your organization and request suggestions on how you can make it better. Initially, responses might seem shallow. But if you persevere, the emergent truth can provide insight to help improve your leadership performance.

Use a 360-degree instrument: A more elaborate and formal way to gather feedback is to administer a 360-degree instrument, which compares your self-assessment with that of your boss(es), your direct reports, your peers (or any other rater group you choose) on well-researched leadership behaviors. (A good example is the Leadership Versatility Index.) It takes courage to invite this kind of input, but the reward can be great.

Conduct a survey: If you are interested in broader input from your entire organization, an all-employee survey can help determine what is going well and what needs attention. Like 360s, surveys offer confidentiality, which can encourage candor. (Local research firm Populus is a good resource.)

Reflect: Review the results from these inquiries and ask yourself whether your impact is aligned with your intent. If yes, good. If not, you know where to start.

One caveat: Ask for feedback only if you are willing to listen and act on what you learn.

Linda Clark-Santos, Ph.D., is a Boise consultant and executive coach. This column appears in the May 17-June 20, 2017, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine. Click here for the Statesman’s e-edition, which includes Business Insider (subscription required).