I am a director in a large retail organization. Recently everyone at my level received an online 360° feedback. My report shows that my whole team is very unhappy with my hands-on style. All 14 of my people—not just 1 or 2— see me as a micro-manager. In the open-ended comments were phrases like “in the weeds” and “breathing down my neck.” Also, my peers and my boss perceive me as being “not strategic.”
I was blindsided by this. I am upset and confused. Right now I have no idea how to do my job. I have always thought it was good that I’m on top of things and I head off errors and problems before they can even start—but it turns out that all this time I have been de-motivating my team! I am at a total loss. I just don’t understand why the feedback is so negative.
My wife thinks I am taking this too much to heart and I should ignore it and move on. What do you think?
At a Loss
Dear At a Loss,
I think your wife is wrong—you should not take her advice to ignore this feedback. She is right, though, in the sense that you can’t take it too personally. But you have to take it seriously. Your job and future are at stake here. Feedback is often more a reflection of the person giving it than the one receiving it, but the one useful thing about the multi-raters—especially if you had a large group filling it out—is that it shines a light on something you are oblivious to but everyone else sees.
It is surprising that you have never, ever heard this type of feedback before and that you are so gob smacked by it. Has no one ever mentioned to you that they didn’t need you to supervise them as closely as you do? If you think about it, you may have had hints about this but chose to ignore them. We all do it.
Now is the time for you to pay attention to this very real situation and make a change. You must make use of the feedback or you will never grow as a human being (or be promoted). You don’t want to look back on this moment and regret it. Create some space in your brain to process the feedback by asking yourself What if this were true?
Research shows that successful people are naturally good at seeking out feedback and making changes based on that feedback. You can choose to develop this quality.
So what to do? The first person to talk to is your boss. Ask her what it would look like for you to be more strategic. Get specifics on what you should stop doing and what you should do differently. Challenge her to give it to you straight. Tell her about the feedback from your team and enlist her help in adopting a less controlling style. Make a list of all the ways you can improve and brainstorm with her the ones that are the most doable and will get the best results. You can’t get a personality transplant, so find changes you can make that are realistic for you.
You could also ask your boss to arrange for some training—our Situational Leadership® II method is ideal for just this problem. You can read about it in the book Leadership and the One Minute Manager. It explains how to give each employee just the right amount of direction and support so you aren’t breathing down anyone’s neck or, conversely, abandoning them when they need you.
Then swallow your pride and go talk to your team. Go ahead and tell them how shocked you are at the feedback. Explain that you want to be a better boss and that you want to give them the direction and support they need, when they need it, and not more than they need. Give them permission to tell you when you are overdoing it and to come to you for help when they need it. Once you decide what behaviors you want to stop or start, tell your people what you are working on and ask them to give you in-the-moment feedback as you go. Leadership is a relationship between you and the people who follow you. Develop that relationship and improve the communication channels. Use your strength—the one that makes you good at staying on top of things and anticipating problems—to monitor your own behavior.
This feedback is not an attack on your character. It is an opportunity for you to become a better leader. Was any of the feedback good? Did you even notice the good feedback? Probably not. Most people are hyper-focused on the criticism. Go back and read through the report again and focus on the good stuff. It drives me crazy that your company thought it would be a good idea to give you a feedback experience without offering support from someone who could help you talk it through and come up with an action plan for what isn’t working.
Stay in touch and let me know how it is going.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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