Want People to Tell You the Truth More? Do These 4 Things.

A key part of my coaching work is creating a 360 feedback assessment for my clients. This consists of a collection of quantitative and qualitative feedback I’ve gathered from their manager, peers, and direct reports. I then build a thorough report, sharing everything with them, the good and the bad.

360 assessments are a way to hold a mirror up to clients. It gives them candid feedback on how they’re perceived by those who work closely with them. Clients are often surprised by what they hear. They tend to focus on the negative themes, but the positive feedback is just as insightful.

At the end of the 360, they inevitably tell me, often in frustration, that they wish their colleagues would be as candid with them as they were with me. Why weren’t people telling them the truth?

The reality is that we rarely see ourselves the same way others see us. For example, I was once told by a newly recruited colleague that I came off as smug and aloof in team meetings.

I was shocked. I had recently been promoted and felt uncomfortable speaking up so I mostly stayed quiet. My behavior, largely driven by my insecurities, had been interpreted as arrogance.

I’m grateful my colleague spoke up. Most people don’t.

Unfortunately, being told the truth only gets harder as you rise the ranks. I’ve found that the more senior a leader gets, the less candid feedback they hear from others. These leaders, whether intentionally or not, isolate themselves from how others truly feel. An echo chamber is created. Both they and their company suffer.

So, how do you get people to tell us the truth?

First, you must ask for feedback. This may seem obvious, but many don’t do this. In fact, one study shows that only 50% of managers ask for feedback. Simply asking for feedback is literally half the battle.

Second, share how others can give you feedback. Do you prefer it immediately or after time has passed? Do you prefer it in a one-on-one? Let them know.

Third, open things up even more by sharing specific areas where you want their feedback. Tell them you know you have room for improvement. This shows a willingness to improve and creates space for them.

Finally, thank them for the feedback and promise that you won’t hold it against them. Then, don’t hold it against them! It’s really, really hard to give upward feedback. Commend them for their bravery.

If their candor comes back to hurt them, not only will they not tell you the truth, but they’ll tell others you can’t handle it. Trust is built over time, so continue to follow steps one through four until you’re getting the results you’re looking for.

Some leaders legitimately want to be surrounded by yes men and yes women. That’s where growth dies. That’s not you.

Build an environment of truth telling. Create space for those who speak their mind. Reward those who give feedback. Your future depends on it.

Want to Lead? Here’s Why You Must Read Hundreds of Books.

When I was 19 years old I hit pause on my college studies and moved to Oklahoma. I spent the next two years as a missionary for my church, teaching and serving others.

I lived in four different cities. I saw extreme poverty and extreme wealth. I saw loving families and broken homes. I developed close friendships with a black university professor, a 70 year old widow, and an American Indian janitor/rapper. A man once chased me in his underwear, cursing and screaming at me.

Those two years were really hard but I look back on them with fondness. My eyes were opened. I grew up.

Our view of the world is shaped by our experience with it. We see life through our eyes and too often assume others view the world similarly. We make the mistake that our view is the “right” way of looking at things. But our view is based on our limited life experiences.

To meet the challenges in front of us, we need additional perspectives. We need to learn from others. I love this quote from General Jim Mattis: 

“If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.”

Our firsthand experiences may be limited, but we can always leverage the experiences of others. This is one of the reasons I love reading biographies. Through books we can, in a way, live the life of someone else. We can learn from their experiences and leverage their insights.

It’s been said that not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers. Want to lead? Read books. Read hundreds of them.

Never stop learning.

Don’t Be Your Authentic Self. Do This Instead.

I nominate authenticity as the single most damaging and self-limiting word that exists.

“I’m being my authentic self.” “I’m just trying to be authentic to who I am.” You hear it all the time.

The problem with authenticity is that it’s stagnant. It’s fixed. If we’re being genuinely authentic to ourselves, we’re committing to being the same person we were last year and the year before and the year before that. 

Do you really want to be authentic? Really? Or do you want to be the best version of yourself that you can be?

As an exec coach, I’m in the people growth business. Growth is really hard. It’s hard because it feels weird. It feels different. It’s uncomfortable. By definition, growth is inauthentic.

Growth is also hard because, over time, those around you expect you to act in a certain way. And they don’t always like it when you try to change. Some people flat out want your change efforts to fall short. They want to see you fail. Your change makes them uncomfortable.

This is why it’s so critical to surround yourself with people who will build you up. And in turn, you need to be the kind of person who builds up others. We all can do better at championing self improvement.

Real change requires acting differently. It’s easier to do what comes naturally. It’s easier to keep the same habits and beliefs. It’s easier to be authentic. But authenticity shuts down our growth. It limits our potential.

So, let’s rethink authenticity. Let’s stop glamorizing authenticity. Let’s focus not on being true to who we are today, but instead on being true to the person we can become.

Let’s focus on growth, not authenticity. Because growth is what we’re all really seeking in the end.