In a recent interview with The Harvard Business Review, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson shared a key leadership lesson he’s learned as director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of the “StarTalk” radio show.
Apparently, deGrasse Tyson appreciates when people point out his flaws:
“I think I’m a good listener. I like it when people tell me I’ve done something wrong. I’ve seen people with underlings who are always telling them they’re great and I’m thinking, ‘If you’re actually that great, what do you need people telling it to you for? And if you’re not, then you’re missing possible adjustments that can improve your ability to manage, make decisions, or solve problems.’ As an academic, I like dissenting ideas, because out of them comes a deeper understanding of how things are or should be.”
As it turns out, research suggests that openness to feedback (even negative feedback) is a crucial part of leadership effectiveness.
For example, leadership consultancy Zenger/Folkman studied more than 50,000 executives and found that those who asked for feedback least often also ranked towards the bottom for overall leadership effectiveness. On the other hand, those who asked for feedback most often were rated towards the top for overall leadership effectiveness.
Meanwhile, research from Teachers College, Columbia University, and the Center for Creative Leadership highlights the downsides of “defending.” Their study of 134 execs found that defensive leaders — those who act closed-minded when being challenged or given critical feedback — were generally rated as less effective on their ability to meet business objectives, among other measures.
So how can you ensure that your employees feel free to offer constructive criticism?
Writing in The Harvard Business Review this month, management professors James R. Detert and Ethan R. Burris say it’s important to hold regular face-to-face meetings with employees, and to occasionally make “employee feedback” the primary item on the agenda. After the meeting, the professors say you should adopt at least one suggestion that was offered and let everyone know who deserves credit for submitting it.
You should also make a point of bringing employees’ suggestions to your manager, to show that you take their ideas seriously.
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