Three things in life are certain:
- Taxes, and
- The fact that working if you’ve worked in a large organisation you’re used to getting a ton of downward feedback from your managers and bosses.
Many of us are accustomed to receiving downward feedback, despite the racing pulse and sweaty palms we might get every time.
But do we know what our juniors and peers think?
Progression vs enjoyment
Once I started leading people, I realised I focus more on my upward feedback than I do on my downward feedback. One of the reasons for this is that I want to be running my own businesses again one day; it’s important for me to understand my management style and how to get the best out of my teams.
The other – more important – reason is this: promotions and pay rises might come from downward feedback, but enjoyment comes from having a happy and motivated team.
I’ve had even the worst projects feel like they went well because the team was happy and positive. Work is so much more fulfilling when don’t feel like you’re having to drag your team, kicking and screaming, through every project.
There’s another catch: if your team is underperforming, it will become increasingly difficult to receive good downward feedback. Either you will need to spend more of your own time delivering on the job (decrease in enjoyment) or you won’t deliver on the job, impacting your downward feedback and career progression. The larger your team becomes and the more senior you become, the more this holds true.
So why do we invest so little of our focus in upward feedback?
Dunning-Kruger strikes again
There’s a relatively rational explanation for this, and it might not even be your fault. In large organisations and professional services firms, your progression is often linear and predictable. You do the monkey work for a few years and – when your leaders think you’re doing a great job of doing the monkey work – you get promoted to Manager of Others Doing Monkey Work.
Because you’ve been received great feedback and been recognised as a high performer, your cognitive bias leads you to believe that you’ll be a great manager, too. The problem with this is that the skills you’ve learned prior to promotion give you a great technical base to work from, but they don’t teach you how to lead!
We need to learn how to lead and figure out how we can create a better experience for our teams. A happy team is a productive team.
Identifying your blind spots through upward feedback
The fastest way to improve as a leader is to invest in upward feedback regularly. In particular, I find anonymous feedback to be the most valuable. The good news is that it doesn’t need to be a chore. My personal process for obtaining valuable, actionable upward feedback is as follows:
- I personally request anonymous feedback from all my teams once a quarter, with only two questions:
- What should I continue doing?
- What should I stop doing, or change?
- After every project, when I am delivering feedback to a junior team member, I ask: “is there anything I could have done differently as a manager which would have helped you do your job better?”
That’s it. It’s as simple as that.
The insights I’ve gained over the last 5 years of leading people have been eye-opening. I’ve learned to be careful of the poor experience that can be created for some team members when other members of the team are friends of mine. Juniors sometimes warn me about over-coaching. I’ve learned how to strike a balance between micro- and macro-management. I’ve been reminded that sometimes my personal/team goals are not always a priority from an organisational perspective and that sometimes I need to compromise for the greater good.
So, does your team hate you?
All of these insights have helped shape me into a better leader. The sooner you start taking on fresh perspectives of your performance, the sooner you will be able to start honing your leadership skills and enjoying your work as a leader.
Leading and managing people is a whole new skillset that we all have to learn. For some, it comes more naturally than for others. The trick is to leave our friends Dunning and Kruger at the door and start figuring out our blind spots.
You’d be amazed at what you find out about yourself.
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