Thursday, May 23, 2013

Three Great Questions Every Leader Should Ask

"How can I do better?  What am I doing I don't know?  What am I not doing I don't see?" 

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg tells a story of how one of her direct reports asked her those three questions.  I think they are great questions every leader should be asking.  Even more importantly, I believe leaders should ask them in three their own manager as in the case related by Sandberg, but also laterally to peers and to her own direct reports.

Most people will recognize what I'm suggesting as some sort of 360 degree feedback.  In my experience 360's are often done either as part of the assessment portion of a leader development experience, as part of annual employee surveys or to "fix" someone who clearly doesn't understand how their behavior is impacting others.  There is nothing wrong with any of those things as a practice....I just think it is far more effective when it is embedded in routine practice. 

It's even more important in global virtual teams where leaders and team members are separated by many time zones and have infrequent face to face interaction.  Carving time out for these 1:1 conversations, either telecon or through video technology is important.  At a minimum it should be done twice a year with the line manager...mid-year and year end....more optimally I'd suggest quarterly.

With regard to peers, I often picked out one or two trusted colleagues, shared what I was working on as a leader, and asked some version of those three questions.  I'd also at least annually ask for feedback on what I should do more of, do less of or what I should continue to do from everyone in my organizational unit.

Last, and Sandberg also makes this is not absolute, it's an opinion.  "It is an opinion grounded in observations and experiences which allows us to know what impressions we make on others".    Sometimes those opinions will differ depending on who we ask...and sometimes our actions have different impact on different people.  Effective leaders want and need to know the full range of those opinions and develop practices to insure they do.

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