“John” and I had spent the better part of the hour talking about what his direct report, “Janis,” needed to be a more effective manager. Bless her heart, Janis had a hard time accepting feedback. If she didn’t improve, her job was on the line, but we didn’t want to put it that way. At least not yet.
We isolated the behaviors and built a solid developmental path forward.
As we transitioned to the “How you can help as her boss” conversation, I asked John what I thought was the next obvious question.
“What are you doing to develop yourself as a leader?”
“Oh me? I haven’t thought about that. I’ve been here so long. I’m not really working on anything specific.”
Trying to prevent the disbelief from showing too frantically on my face, I continued.
“Oh, well, what feedback have you received about your management style? What’s working best? What drives your team crazy? What does your boss say?”
Note: the best thing to do with crickets in such a conversation is to let them chirp.
We sat in silence for a few minutes.
“Well actually…. I do struggle with_____ and ______ and ________.”
“Excellent. Let’s talk about you for a while and what you can do to leverage your strengths and become more effective in these other areas.”
John’s eyes sparkled with renewed energy as we made a plan.
“So here’s the most important part, John. Janis needs to hear how you are working on you.”
John didn’t love it. “I’m trying to fix her. How will it look if I admit I’ve got issues too?”
“John. When a leader has issues…trust me, the team already knows. The best thing you can do for Janis and the rest of your team in terms of leadership development is to admit you’re not perfect and that you’re working on getting better too. Janis will be so much more open to feedback and doing the work we need her to do, if she sees you modeling the way.”
The best way to get your team to hear your feedback is to show you’re working too. Leadership is never handled. When you start there, you open an important space to talk about and work on getting better.