Imminent Behavior Adjustments: Asking for Input and Being Open to Feedback

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I’ve been getting leadership coaching at Barrel the past few months. Sei-Wook and I have been working with Peter Oropeza of Oro Consulting to identify our strengths and improvement areas and to develop action plans to help us grow as leaders.

Last week, I met with Peter to review my ASSESS personality test, my ASSESS 360 feedback from direct reports and Sei-Wook, and my Hogan Development Survey, which shows how I behave when stressed. Peter also interviewed various people at Barrel and combined feedback from these interviews with the results and analysis of my tests.

Leadership coaching has been a really intense and engaging process. There were moments of anger and disappointment as I reviewed my test results (especially the 360, which comes with anonymous comments from my direct reports), but after I let the feedback marinate in my mind and reviewed them with Peter, I think they’re spot on, and I have major work to do.

These are not the only areas I need to address, but I’ll focus on them because they feel the most important to me and are related to each other: I need to be consistent in asking people for their thoughts rather than bowling them over with my mandates; I also need to be better about receiving and processing feedback rather than taking a defensive posture.

Asking for input is something I’ve sacrificed on many occasions for the sake of speed. As a boss, it’s much easier to come up with an idea and implement it right away. I’ve fallen victim to this convenience on various occasions, hatching numerous internal programs and policies without getting much input from other team members. It’s a behavior that’s satisfied my drive to get things done but something that’s detracted from my ability to lead. I’ve seen some of my very well-intentioned initiatives cause resentment and anxiety because I failed to involve others in the process. It’s not that I need everyone’s buy-in because the final decision is ultimately up to me and Sei-Wook, but making and enforcing that decision without discussion can send a strong message to the team without us ever meaning to.

One way to address this is to be more pro-active in asking for input. I’ve seen this work out beautifully the past month with our Barrel Strategy Task Force. I recruited volunteers to help me and Sei-Wook brainstorm and figure out the direction of our company. I’ve structured our weekly sessions to revolve around different topics that require participants to come prepared with their thoughts and ideas. This format has been great for sparking spirited and honest discussions in an encouraging environment.

I have other initiatives in the works that will be good tests for me. As I reach out to various people, I’ll take careful note of how I interact with them. It’s one thing to ask but another to be genuine and encouraging, even when receiving feedback that may be very critical of the initiative. I’m going to focus on keeping an open mind and turning my answers from a dismissive “I don’t know about that” to an enabling “Interesting, tell me more.” The same goes for scenarios where an employee approaches me with a new idea. Rather than trying to poke holes right away or countering with what I think is a better approach, I’ll pause, let the person finish, and ask more questions. I’m hoping this leads to a more fruitful conversation.

Asking for input and being open to feedback are very critical adjustments to make as a manager and aspiring leader. It’s one of those no-brainer leadership qualities that I’ve read in numerous books and articles (“A great leader listens,” “A great leader is open-minded,” etc.), but one that I didn’t realize was a glaring weakness of mine. In thinking about the big picture, it’s incredibly important for me to take action and make progress. I’m passionate about building a company that nurtures creativity and collaboration. It’s hard for me to achieve this and inspire others if I’m perceived to be a roadblock in these very activities. My goal is to continually evaluate my day-to-day behavior and identify opportunities for deliberate practice. As our leadership coach Peter told me, it’s like learning a new move in basketball. Initially, I’m not going to be comfortable using my new “go-to” move, but once I keep using it and eventually have it down, it’s going to be extremely useful in helping me perform.

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