Developing Leaders – Building Teams

The best leaders learn to ASK

How can I be a better supervisor for you?”

How often have you been asked that question by your boss? For all you leaders out there, how often have you asked your direct reports or team members? According to Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s top leadership coaches, the answer is not often. Marshall only coaches senior executives in Fortune 100 companies where this shortfall is evident – but it is apparent at ALL levels. It is not a theory – it is a fact. Marshall cites research done by Jim Kouzes (co-author of the perennial bestselling book “The Leadership Challenge”) who surveyed 70,000 people evaluating their bosses. What came in dead last on employee satisfaction: “being asked for input on what he or she can improve.” Leaders need to ask.

So why do leaders not ask the question? One of the biggest obstacles for senior leaders is they fear that asking for feedback on their performance is a sign of weakness. As leaders progress up the ranks, leaders often develop the need or expectation to be smarter than everyone else. For others, it is simply arrogance. And then there are leaders who have never been asked in their professional careers and therefore have simply never considered it. I have experienced each of these reasons throughout my military and business coaching career.   

It is not good enough, by the way, to simply ask. After asking, the next step is to listen with the intent to understand. My long-time mentor retired air force general Perry Smith calls this “squinting with your ears.” Leaders must understand not only what is being suggested but also why. The third step is take appropriate action where credible feedback was shared. Don’t promise to do what everybody suggests – leadership is not a popularity contest. And finally, follow-up soon to see what has changed as a result of your actions.  

Leaders need to ask. It is the first step in this four-step process is the foundation for Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholder Centered leadership coaching methodology. Assess the positive impacts that can result from this four-step process: Ask, Listen, Act, Follow-up. 

What could be gained by leaders executing this 4-step process? The list is lengthy, but I wanted to share three of the most significant impacts:

  • Leaders learn how to become more effective by discovering their blind spots 
  • Leaders lead by example in their willingness to seek and listen to others 
  • Others are inspired to work harder when they know their leaders genuinely value their opinions and recommendations, especially if they acted on them

Consider the following scenarios:

  • As the CEO of a major construction company asks his staff/superintendents: “How can I be a better manager for you?”
  • As the director of a medical department or clinic to his/her staff: “I want to be a better supervisor. How can I help you be more successful?”
  • As the customer service manager, asking the customer: “My job is to serve you, not you serve me. What can I do to serve you better?”
  • As a member of a team ask a teammate: “I want to be a better team player. What suggestions do you have for me on how I can best help the team?”

It is not just Marshall Goldsmith and Jim Kouzes who highlight the importance of the need for leaders to ask.The world renown situational leadership model developed by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey reinforces this recommendation in spades. Patrick Lencioni, the author of best-selling book “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” also highlight to achieve trust, the leader must be vulnerable, willing to admit mistakes, acknowledge they may not have all the answers. 

This four-step process of ASK, LISTEN, ACT, & FOLLOW-UP takes courage and humility. But the rewards can be  a game changer for you and your organization!

My best to you in your leadership journey.

Posted by Jeff Foley - Blog - May 10, 2022