Feedback matters!

Let’s say you are in the market for a mobile phone. Does this sound like a possible approach? 

  1. Review ratings on Amazon and shortlist a few devices
  2. Check out demos on YouTube.
  3. Price shop across retail sites and review customer feedback
  4. Talk to your friends – take their feedback on what’s “cool.”
  5. Purchase the mobile and update everyone using Instagram/Facebook/ Twitter.

We all love to research and take feedback before welcoming anything into our lives.

Man doing research

As a leader, you are a product. Do you get enough feedback?

At work, when we call ourselves a leader, we are a product. We serve many customers, including our boss, our clients, and, most importantly, our teams. Indeed, our teams are our primary customers.

Unlike the mobile phone example, however, the customers don’t get to choose the product(unless you are part of Mr.Ricardo’s organization!).

And they don’t share feedback either – and as leaders, we plod on. We do the best we can, but there’s a niggling doubt – do our teams like us?

Getting Feedback is hard.

If only there is a way to understand what our teams love about us and what they don’t, how cool would that be?

Traditional feedback systems often fall short of this ideal. Yearly or quarterly appraisals often have an incentive tied to them along with a bell-curve. The feedback conversations tend to be a little more formal; 360-degree-feedback is hard to institutionalize across an organization. Engagement surveys are more rounded – however, they are persona-based. They care more about what a leader should do as a category as opposed to as a person. 

We understand that taking Feedback from our team members individually is the way to go. But what if some of my team members are upset – the bell curve required me to rate a couple of folks in the last bucket! Many leaders have a FOFO – Fear of Finding Out. And therefore,  while asking for Feedback seems exciting, it is also scary. Welcome to the leaders’ dilemma; “to ask or not to ask” – it can *suck* both ways!

Welcome to 1955 and a Window that Bill Gates didn’t make!

In 1955, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham developed a model to help us become more aware of ourselves. Their model is simple, effective, and taught in B-schools around the world to this day.

We don’t know anything about these guys. We don’t know their favorite cuisine. Which movies did they love? How did they vote?  We know little about their lives.

However, we know they loved wordplay. Joseph and Harrington christened their invention “Johari Window” – a simple juxtapose of their names’ first parts. I know some of the wordsmiths out there think it should probably be JoHarri – there’s just no pleasing you folks!

Charles Handy recommended renaming the Johari Window as the Johari House with its four rooms. Here’s the house with its four charming rooms.

How to get Feedback - Johari window

Rooms I and II are the ones that will give you instantly actionable Feedback. For instance, if what you know about yourself is similar to how others see you – those are your core leadership traits (Quadrant I). There are aspects you believe to be true about yourself that others may not concur with (II) – these need resolution. Getting these two data points from your teams will make you a wonderfully-aware leader. You will have more insight into your leadership style after this exercise than anyone else in your peer-group.

Who will provide me with the right feedback?

If you have been a leader for over five years, the chances are that you would have worked with many people. Who should we approach for Feedback? We want authentic and actionable Feedback for building out our leader profile. We also need a timeline view – we have evolved as leaders over time – and are not quite the jerk we were in our early days!

Let’s also not forget the FOFO aspect – we also don’t want overly negative Feedback. We do want to understand and improve ourselves, not wallow in self-pity and guilt!

It is time to introduce our White Knight, Mr.Nadella, and his toy, LinkedIn. LinkedIn solves all three problems in one go. LinkedIn today is probably the only media dedicated to “professionals” (so no nasty language, please!). And it has no “unlike” or “thumbs down” button! 

LinkedIn recommendations – shortlisting candidates.

LinkedIn is a benevolent country. While Twitter can turn saints angry,  LinkedIn is for the Mentor, Evangelist, Thought Leader, Innovator, and Transformation Guru. We may not quite understand these terms – but let me assure you – they are not expletives! Everyone who has worked with you is likely to be on LinkedIn, making it a one-stop platform for getting Feedback.

Your career must have seen you playing many roles. For each position, list first-level LinkedIn connections who have worked closely with you. I would encourage you to restrict yourself to the last five years (it makes it more relevant) and leave out your current gig (we don’t want “appraisal” bias!).

Now, shortlist those who have worked closely with you for at least a year. It takes that much time for good leadership traits to show up (bad ones transmit in the blink of an eye). Now save this list – it’s your recommendation funnel.

LinkedIn recommendations- using the “Traffic Light Model.”

We are now ready to apply the final filter. Let’s color-code our shortlisted candidates:
Our candidate is Green if she has worked closely with you and is a regular LinkedIn user. Award her bonus points if she actively recommends people on LinkedIn!
Our candidate is Amber if you’ve worked together, but he isn’t a LinkedIn regular. Let’s color everyone else, Red.

Review the Greens one more time and pick the Greenest five to ten candidates. Congrats,  you now have your target respondent list ready!

You’ll notice we did something interesting here. We used Sukumar Rajgopal’s “Traffic Signal” model for change management. Sukumar is a two-time CIO award winner. He’s also featured as an example to emulate in BJ Fogg’s book, one of the best books on change management in the market today. Sukumar’s research has led him to believe that it’s best to address Greens first. Greens endorse what you do and can even champion the initiative. We then proceed to the Ambers and lastly qualify the Reds. This approach is against conventional wisdom, where we address the Reds (the toughest) ones first. The sad truth is that most Reds don’t convert. And where they succeed – the conversion (material and emotional) costs are just too high.

Here is Sukumar talking about this model.

LinkedIn recommendations – get feedback data that matters!

We have done all the hard work. We are now ready to request recommendations. LinkedIn helps us by establishing context:
1. Your relationship with the person (senior/ supervisor, etc.)
2. The project where the two of you worked together

Let’s compliment our request with a personalized note and a call/email. Our audience must understand why we are requesting recommendations.

The personalized note is essential – we cannot ask for Feedback as an entitlement. Here’s Seth Godin, the marketing guru on why “Permission Marketing” is critical.

“It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention. Pay attention is a key phrase here, because permission marketers understand that when someone chooses to pay attention they are actually paying you with something precious. And there’s no way they can get their attention back if they change their mind. Attention becomes an important asset, something to be valued, not wasted.

Seth Godin

People are busy. Do nudge them once or at the most twice. If they still don’t respond, downgrade them to Amber and knock them off the list! In a week, you’ll find authentic Feedback flowing into your LinkedIn mailbox.

Making sense of recommendations – give me my leader profile already!

OK, recommendations are now in the inbox. We soak in the glory of how awesome we are. We treat ourselves to ice cream or a beer or a filter coffee – whatever. Now what?

It is essential to distill all those free-word comments into a few keywords that describe us first.

Time to head to and create a keyword list. Yan also create a word cloud. Both serve the same purpose – it’s good to see two views, though. 


Now pick the top 5 keywords and compare them against our inventory from earlier. These are your critical visible leader traits and belong to the room I in our Friend Johari’s house if they match. There may be some at variance (your team has a different view) –  put those in-room II.

How about my areas of improvement?

While Linkedin doesn’t talk about improvement areas in the recommendation explicitly, you can infer these from omissions. What did the Feedback leave out that you thought was your signature trait? If, for instance, you thought you were a super humorous leader, and no-one mentioned that in the Feedback – maybe you aren’t funny; the team just humored you! Now, plop all the omissions in quadrant  II. 

Getting feedback using the Johari Window model

You now have your leader profile, woohoo! It lists your key differentiators – the skills, attributes, and behaviors that define you as a leader.

What about III and IV? You can ignore them. For III, it’s best to talk to your therapist. And as for IV, you probably need to go on a quest for a spiritual Guru! Or whatever!

Final thoughts on getting feedback – and a bonus!

Review the table one more time. These traits are your Leader DNA– and qualities that your teams appreciate. These behaviors define how you get things done on a day-day basis and achieve success. Start sharing this with your teams – this is your leader operating system. Don’t forget to keep updating it based on Feedback!

Let’s end with a Glicken. Glicken is a concept I picked from Mr.Ford – an ace copywriter. It is a bonus sweet that ends a Jewish meal – a special extra that sweetens the meal further. While you captured all this Feedback for crafting your leadership journey, you gained another significant benefit. Your LinkedIn profile stands out as a result of these recommendations. Take the time to refine the rest of your resume (highlighting your core strengths (here are some tools to help you write better), and you are well on your way to becoming that super growth leader you deserve to be!

“Getting feedback” – a one-minute-summary

Flowchart for getting feedback

That’s it from me. Thanks again for dropping by. I enjoyed writing this – and I trust you enjoyed the read. Do try the exercise – I promise you it will be enriching. Don’t forget to check my other posts. Have a good day!

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