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Why leaders need feedback as much as anyone else in the organisation

Steve Pyke, Alan Gibbard, Flowers Gallery

As executives become more senior, they receive less leadership coaching and become increasingly confused about their performance and developmental needs, writes Robert S. Kaplan for McKinsey Quarterly.

What's more, they find themselves isolated from constructive criticism because their subordinates are reluctant to offend the boss. When these executives do get feedback in their annual reviews, observes the author, they are surprised to get specific criticisms regarding their leadership style, people skills, strategic thinking, decision making and priorities.

Many senior executives have mentors as opposed to coaches. The difference is that mentors don't get to observe the executive on a regular basis and thus cannot adjust their advice in response to blind spots or weaknesses.

The author says the solution is for senior executives to seek coaching from their subordinates.

Kaplan gives the example a medium-sized pharmaceutical company's CEO who did just that and learned he was perceived to be guarded and a poor communicator and listener, and that his meetings were thought to be ineffective.

The CEO reacted immediately to the criticisms, reaching out to each of his direct reports regularly for specific advice and establishing monthly leadership team meetings where the senior-executive group could openly discuss and debate key issues.

Kaplan concludes that a wider culture of coaching and learning can take root in an organisation as CEOs and other senior leaders build better relationships with junior colleagues and grow their networks of subordinate coaches.

Employee motivation is also increased when upward feedback is seen to have a direct and positive effect on leaders and the company as a whole.

Top Executives Need Feedback – Here's How They Can Get It
Robert S. Kaplan
McKinsey Quarterly