Ooops, My Bad: How To Take Feedback As A Manager


As I round the first corner in this adventure as a featured blogger I’ve gotten the chance to reflect on what I have written so far. There are some common themes but most of my writing revolves around suggestions for improvements that have worked for me in the past. But some recent feedback from my team presents a great opportunity in examining my opportunities as a leader as well. Here’s a secret your boss doesn’t want you to know: we don’t always get it right. Shocking, right? But seriously, how we handle those opportunities as leaders is where we can set ourselves apart.

Here’s a couple ‘No-No’s’ that I’ve committed since in my recent position change that I hope you can learn from:

Everything sounds like ‘No’: I try to work with a positive outlook but I also like the rules. I have a good attitude and I want the best for my team but I also have to get the job done. I thought I walked this balance on a fine line and felt pretty successful in my efforts to bring optimism and affirmation to the workplace rather than constraint and burden. That was until I heard from my supervisors during a recent one on one: with my hiring, I have had to reiterate a lot of standing rules and set new expectations and goals for what I hope to accomplish, but it’s coming across as ‘no,’ ‘don’t,’ and ‘stop’. Talk about the exact opposite of what I wanted to achieve. Here was my light bulb moment: if the only time you ever have a team meeting to engage with your associates is to tell them of changes, give reminders when something has gone wrong or highlight new rules, they aren’t going to want to continue engaging. Don’t get me wrong, I send LOTS of communication to my team-daily morning emails with highlights, informal face-to-face walk around after everyone gets settled in, scheduled one on ones with my supervisors who do the same with their associates-but this feedback allowed me to see from their point of view that the only time we are all together as a team it seems to focus on the negative. Of course, I didn’t realize that perception because I look at the whole body of work that I am submitting to them, but they are right. Our group meetings are trending negative. Now knowing the perception of the team, I will be much more careful in how I craft my message and be sure to highlight the positive outcomes as well.

Skipping the Supervisors: As a new manager to any team I also want to engage my whole staff. I need everyone’s buy in quickly so that I can get moving on what I was hired to do. I make sure to shadow my supervisors to learn their day to day tasks. I work with each associate to visualize how they complete their functions and then make sure I’ve mastered the tasks by working side by side to show I was ‘part of the team’. I have always had an open door policy: ‘You want to talk? Come on in.’ I try my best to be as available as possible for my team because I am there to serve them. Some utilize it more than others but it works for me. I built a great rapport but it had some unintended consequences: recently, I gained a fresh perspective as I realized I had stepped on my supervisor’s toes. Here’s what happened: in an effort to act quickly and find a resolution for my associates, I was not always involving the supervisor who they reported to, thinking I was saving them time or a relieving a concern that didn’t involve them. I would solve the issue with the associate without partnering or explaining to the supervisor but it came across as ‘sneaky’. It also potentially created an environment that undermined the authority of the supervisors by creating the illusion of a permanent bypass.  While I won’t change my open door policy, I should be mindful with my associates and supervisors to connect them with each other first so I can support both roles simultaneously without promoting a subversive atmosphere.

By learning from other’s mistakes you can reflect if you may be guilty of some of the same habits (or possibly your team thinks you are). Make this the start of a self-awareness pattern that will help both you and your team.

Your team is the best reflection you’ve got of how you come across. Good leaders have well-meaning intentions and thought behind what they say and do; but great leaders take inventory of their team to gauge their own intention versus their team’s perception.

Kellen Sweny is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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