(Excerpted from Chapter 12 of Startup CEO)
As a CEO, one of the most important things you can do is solicit feedback about your own performance. Of course, this will work only if you’re ready to receive that feedback! What does that mean? It means you need to be really, really good at doing four things:
- Asking for feedback
- Accepting feedback gracefully
- Acting on feedback
- Asking for follow‐up feedback on the same topic to see how you did
In some respects, asking for it is the easy part, although it may be unnatural. You’re the boss, right? Why do you need feedback? The reality is that all of us can always benefit from feedback. That’s particularly true if you’re a first‐time CEO. Even more experienced CEOs change over time and with changing circumstances. Understanding how the board and your team experience your behavior and performance is one of the only ways to improve over time. It’s easier to ask for feedback if you’re specific. I routinely solicit feedback in the major areas of my job (which mirror the structure of this book):
Strategy. Do you think we’re on target with what we’re doing? Am I doing a good enough job managing to our goals while also being nimble enough to respond to the market?
Staff management/leadership. How effective am I at building and maintaining a strong, focused, cohesive team? Do I have the right people in the right roles at the senior staff level?
Resource allocation. Do I do a good enough job balancing among competing priorities internally? Are costs adequately managed?
Execution. How do the team and I execute versus our plans? What do you think I could be doing to make sure the organization executes better?
Board management/investor relations. Do you think our board is effective and engaged? Have I played enough of a role in leading the group? Do you as a director feel like you’re contributing all you can? Do I strike the right balance between asking and telling? Are communications clear enough and regular enough?
Accepting feedback gracefully is even harder than the asking part. You may or may not agree with a given piece of feedback, but the ability to hear it and take it in without being defensive is the only way to make sure that the feedback keeps coming. Sitting with your arms crossed and being argumentative sends the message that you’re right, they’re wrong, and you’re not interested. If you disagree with something that’s being said, ask questions. Get specifics. Understand the impact of your actions rather than explaining your intent.
The same logic applies to internalizing and acting on the feedback. If you fail to act on feedback, people will stop giving it to you. Needless to say, you won’t improve as a CEO. Fundamentally, why ask for it if you’re not going to use it? And that leads right into the fourth point, closing the loop with the person who gave you feedback on whether or not your actions achieved the desired change.