Let Go & Lead
Meg Wheatley Author
Co-Founder of the Berkana Institute

Leaders Need Honest Feedback (4:15)

MARIL MACDONALD:
So what advice might you have for a leader who was asking themselves, Am I doing things the right way or how do I know if I’m the right kind of leader. What questions might they ask themselves?

MEG WHEATLEY:
Well I think the first thing is who do you go to for accurate feedback about your leadership style. I mean most senior leaders are shocked that their good intentions and what they feel is openness and accessibility, you know that’s how they’re thinking they’re behaving and they’re shocked when, you know, in a team meeting or because they do 360 degree or some other process. They suddenly realize well I’m not who I think I am or people don’t perceive me how I perceive myself and those are always actually pretty scary moments for people. For any of us. When you realize, I thought I was walking my talk and now people are telling me they don’t see any congruence or they see you know really bad behavior on my part. So you have to, I think, figure out who in your organizational system can give you the truth.

You know, sometimes it’s an external coach. Sometimes it’s a survey but where are you going to test out your own hypothesis about who you think you are as a leader and the impact it’s having. Your leadership is having on people. And that, that’s a brave step I mean I really want to honor the courage that goes into asking for accurate feedback. Um, because if you are courageous enough to ask the question then it means you’re probably ready to, to encounter the possibility that you might have to change. But you’re doing it because you want to be a better leader for people and for your organization. So there has to be that too. If you’re just in it for yourself and career progression then you can probably just keep playing the ruthless game and make it. But if you really want to be a leader who develops strong relationships and gains respect and leaves a legacy that people will continue to admire and look to um, then you have to get real. You have to be open whether who you think you are is what others think you are. So that’s the first act of courage.

And then the other thing is to just notice that it takes time. I mean people will not believe you when you say you want to get rid of power differentials or you just want them to talk honestly with you or you have these listening sessions and you’re really asking people what’s on their minds. People will not easily respond these days because they’ve been so battered and bruised by years and years now, a very, repressive leadership that may have asked the right questions and then did nothing with the answer; and may have to pretend to engage people but only around trivial issues. And the other thing to notice is that people these days, the two words I hear people talking about all the time. I ask, ‘How are you doing?’ They say overwhelmed and I’m exhausted. Our whole culture is overwhelmed and exhausted. So that means we have to take time and we have to create more relaxing venues for people to just settle in. And it takes time to develop trust so you can’t just hold one meeting. You can’t just use one participative process. You have to stay the course here.