We all have a few favorite gurus, a few favorite professionals who we look up to and whose expertise we strive to emulate. For me, Robert Sutton is just that. I was first introduced to him in 2010, when he published his famous piece, “12 Things Good Bosses Believe.” I’d been in management long enough to see the validity in what he shared. It became one of those pieces I always refer to, and he became a professional I respect. So I’m excited to kick off a blog series on Sutton’s 12 Things, exploring each one and how it connects to your team and your workplace. Today’s post — The best bosses believe I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.
When you are in a management or leadership position, it’s easy to fall into a trap: clearly, you’re the most kick-ass person ever because you got the job. Managers, you’re not alone when you pat yourself on the back a few too many times. I was hired because of my capabilities, we say, so it’s my way or the highway. Capable? Yes. Perfect? No. Not even close.
Say it aloud with me: I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me. No matter how much we strive to be self-aware, it’s impossible for us to have a complete understanding of what it is like to work for ourselves. So how do we bridge this gap?
First step: acknowledge it. No matter how many leadership books we read, we’ll always have blind spots as managers. No matter how many seminars we attend, we’ll always have personality quirks as leaders. Acknowledge this personally and professionally, and keep it in mind when interacting with your team.
Second step: actively seek feedback. Yeah, I see you rolling your eyes. But what your team has to say about you matters, and being open to hearing it creates the environment you want in your workplace. You don’t need to break out the glitter and throw a feedback fiesta. But create open dialogue and talk to your team about this gap. Ask how you can support them best. Ask for feedback on what you can do to lead them better.
Step three: recognize that sometimes you’ll get unsolicited feedback. Be open to this and listen actively. It’s quite possible that your team is being brave when they come to you with that feedback. And it often comes from a genuine place and with the intent to make things better. Rarely does this feedback come from a place of anger.
And finally, one of the most powerful things you can do is to thank your team members when they offer feedback. Say how much you appreciate them sharing with you. This makes sure they know they’ve been heard. Sometimes, this will be the hardest thing you do, but it is necessary. Every piece of feedback brings you closer to being the most kick-ass leader you can be.