Before my wife and I got married we took some time to engage in pre-marital counseling to help set ourselves up for a successful start to our marriage. As part of the counseling we read the book, The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The book addresses the importance of identifying, understanding and speaking your spouse’s primary love language. Essentially, what shows love to you may not look the same for them. To evaluate how well this is going, it’s encouraged that from time to time you ask your spouse the question, “On a scale of 1-10, how full is your love tank?” There’s nothing like a simple self-assessment. Easy, right?
Fast forward to married life where I was excited to put this in practice. I thought I would be pro-active one night and ask my wife how her love tank was looking. I waited in anticipation for the ego-boosting response. Instead my wife thought for a moment and responded with a deflating, “I would say a five, well, maybe four”. My immediate internal response was something along the lines of, “Well, her expectations are just too high and likely unrealistic”. I was even bold enough to outwardly question those expectations. As you might imagine, that didn’t go well. After that conversation, my hesitancy to ask the question in the future grew. Always asking myself, “Am I going to get the response I want to hear or the one I need to hear?”
In any context, asking the question, “How am I doing?” can be a humbling and vulnerable one, especially for those in a leadership position. Hearing what we need to hear is not easy. Feedback is intended to shake us up a bit and push us towards new, intentional behavior. See, most of us leaders are running on autopilot. We default to the behavior that comes most naturally and prefer to not have anything slow us down. Furthermore, the higher up you are, the less you are likely receiving feedback regarding your behavior and effectiveness as a leader from your team. This makes it that much more critical to ask, and ask frequently. It can be as simple as the single item question noted above. Essentially asking, “How am I doing?” Be prepared to listen (not defend) and ensure you are ready to take action. The worst thing you can do is nothing, as it will likely lead to others questioning your intent and feeling cynical regarding your actions. “He really isn’t wanting the feedback” or “She has no intention to change” are not the stories you want being told.
At the beginning you may not be met with the open and honest feedback you’re looking for, but over time others will begin to take your request seriously and feel empowered to give you the feedback you’re looking for. Sometimes, we just don’t know what we don’t know. Many times we’re leaving something highly valuable on the proverbial table that could have a positive impact on how we lead and engage others. Don’t let it sit there, but rather take time to ask and ensure you get to know what you very well need to know.