To bring people together around a common cause, it is critical that a leader be self aware. Jeff Immelt's recent comments to the cadets at West Point reminded me of this fact.
Immelt, CEO of General Electric, said he he's learned lessons from the Great Recession that have made him "humbler and hungrier... I needed to be a better listener coming out of the crisis... I should have done more to anticipate the radical changes that occurred," he added. Such an admission reveals an executive who is comfortable in his own skin, even as he is making hard decisions about the future of his company.
Coming to terms with yourself is a private matter. But if you fail to come to terms with your own limitations and it affects your ability to lead then it could be worthy of public scrutiny. Toward that end, here are three questions leaders can ask themselves, or a trusted associate or two, about their own managerial performance.
1. What more do I need? This question might seem easy because a leader will always say she needs more time. True enough, but lack of time is often an excuse for failing to address simmering issues or to carry projects through to fruition. Ask yourself and others what you need to do more of; one answer might be "doing less." That is, learn to delegate more and devote your time to thinking.
2. What else should I be doing? By focusing on less, you may learn to delegate not simply tasks, but also responsibilities. Too often executives feel they need to be engaged in the work when their job is really to engage other people. Let your people do their jobs. If they can't, find out why. You may need to find employees with different skills sets or you may need to provide your people with additional training, resources, and manpower.
3. How do I accept feedback? "The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them," says Colin Powell. "They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care." None of us welcome bad news about ourselves and our work, but self-aware leaders are those that not only accept it, but invite it, and even seek it out. They do so because they are continually learning. Without learning there is no personal growth.
The answers to these questions should challenge your perception of yourself. Yet, your own questions can only go so far — you cannot be aware of things you don't know. Comparing one's own perceptions to what others observe can provide striking bits of insight. For example, you may think you communicate, delegate, supervise, and recognize others well, but until you receive others' opinions on these things, you cannot truly know. Personality and leadership assessments, along with 360-degree evaluations are useful in this situation.
Once you've gathered the answers, you must integrate the feedback into your behavior and approach as a means of becoming more capable, knowledgeable, and self aware. Questions and assessments only go so far. Accepting feedback can be a spine-stiffening experience, especially when we hear things about ourselves that are not favorable. Yet, strong leaders acknowledge their shortcomings and resolve to make improvements. Easy to say, but very hard to do, unless you act on your ability to know yourself.
[Read transcript of Jeff Immelt's remarks at West Point.]