“I have a cohort of senior leaders who are top professionals but not particularly conscious leaders; I’m a bit overwhelmed with the possibilities . . . where do I begin with them?” More than a few heads of HR – irrespective of how robust their executive development efforts – have asked me some variation of this same question. I tell them I know a good place to start.
Teach your leaders about the value of frequently delivering candid positive and constructive feedback to their direct reports – and provide them with the necessary skills to deliver it.
What? Feedback? You’re kidding. That’s interpersonal skills training. Soft stuff. Shouldn’t I dive into a needs assessment, build a competency model and construct a coherent leadership development architecture with linkages to talent management, performance management, comp, etc.?
Okay, do that, too, at some point soon. But start with constructive and timely feedback-giving skills.
Here’s my rationale.
The aim of a highly functioning Executive Development function, broadly speaking, is to build execs’ leadership chops so that they apply their skills deliberately and with consistency at work. After all, these senior leaders set the behavioral standard for the organization. Whether your execs are conscious of this or not, earnest middle managers are already watching them for cues and then guessing about which behaviors they ought to emulate or avoid.
Why keep them guessing? Why not direct your execs to provide better timely and actionable feedback to their subordinates?
Okay, here are a couple of the familiar barriers. First – and I know I’m not telling tales out of school – most leaders presently lack the skills. Second, some see limited advantage in being more attentive to subordinates’; worse yet, they may experience a feedback-seeking subordinate as needy or whiny.
I know. I get it. There’s some resistance. On the other hand, consider what may enable and even promote senior leader feedback to subordinates. To begin with, research suggests that employees desire better timely and actionable feedback from their senior leaders, good and bad. Hence, it’s likely that subordinates will be openly appreciative of the attention and guidance. Moreover, there is a natural tendency of achievement-driven execs to aspire to excel at tasks they undertake. Challenge them to excel at giving quality feedback. Teach them how.