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Leadership Lessons A-Z: Inquire to Improve

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One characteristic of leadership is the desire to improve. As leaders, we strive to better ourselves. We work to create a happier environment for others. We hope that others are enhanced in some small way because of our interactions. We want to improve, fostering growth in ourselves and others.

Sometimes, though, we are too self-reflective in the process. We self-evaluate, recognize opportunities to improve, and then work to do so. We read books on specific topics or hire a coach to help us overcome limiting beliefs. We implement new routines and practice new habits in order to become better. We make changes to processes assuming we will increase efficiency or decrease frustration, that our efforts will garner good will and create improvement for our teams.

Those are good things! However, we often neglect a crucial step in the improvement process: inquiry. We need to ask others for feedback. We should be reaching out to people at all levels in our organizations and asking about the processes, policies, and practices that guide behaviors. We ought to share information and ask for input from those who perform specific tasks. Equally as important, we should request feedback about ourselves – our management style, communication skills, and interpersonal abilities.

The inquiry may be uncomfortable for all involved. It may be hard for us to hear how others perceive us, especially in areas where we think we demonstrate high levels of skill and ability. It will be difficult for members of our team to provide feedback to us as well. As leaders, we should model giving feedback, acknowledging strengths and providing specific examples of opportunities to improve, coupled with suggestions of adjustments that can be implemented to shift behaviors and increase performance.

When we model giving feedback kindly and frequently, we are better poised to inquire of others regarding our own performance. We need to consider what feedback we request from others, and how we invite them to provide it. Sometimes anonymous feedback is more honest; however, sometimes it creates an opportunity for people to be unkind. An unbiased third-party can be helpful, but is not always necessary. The inquiry and response does not always need to be formal, either. The impromptu, casual conversation can be the most helpful in identifying a need for change.

This process requires us to reflect on our response to feedback as well. When we receive suggestions, we should respond with gratitude. Sharing an opinion regarding an opportunity to improve requires courage, and often occurs because there is a culture of trust, a sense of safety within the organization that allows for open communication. If we, as leaders, receive the feedback graciously and share our progress relative to the feedback, we will foster an environment that allows for improvement.

The leadership lesson? Improvement can be limited without external input. We must request feedback from others, soliciting opinions and ideas and encouraging honest dialogue. Leaders, we must be willing to inquire in order to improve.