A Thorough Self-Assessment Will Make You a Stronger Leader
A commitment to self-assessment is a trait that an effective middle market CEO should possess. You often play a more central and complex role than CEOs in larger companies, which usually have bigger, more-defined leadership teams. As such, self-assessment may be the last thing on your to-do list because other priorities crowd your busy agenda. Taking the time to pull back on day-to-day work and reflect upon whether your efforts are truly aligned with your company's long-term vision is an essential component of leadership.
Often the wisdom you seek comes from inside, jump-started not by answers but by simple questions. You are often so busy juggling multiple tasks that you might not have the time to reflect. Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School studies the power of reflection to improve performance. Her research suggests that taking just 15 minutes to reflect on a completed task leads to significantly greater levels of productivity.
"I don't see a lot of organizations that actually encourage employees to reflect — or give them time to do it," Gino says. "When we fall behind even though we're working hard, our response is often just to work harder. But in terms of working smarter, our research suggests that we should take time for reflection."
Gino's colleague at Harvard Business School, Teresa Amabile, agrees. Leaders need "to constantly prioritize, to figure out what is truly important, what they can forget about, and what can they push to the back burner in order to reduce time pressure," she says. Being able to prioritize effectively requires a healthy dose of self-awareness.
It's imperative as a middle market CEO to recognize when you need to make changes. One place to begin is to understand how you are spending your time and if those time investments are moving the company forward in a way that matches your overarching strategic vision.
Robert Kaplan of Harvard Business School believes strongly in the power of self-knowledge. His seminal book on self-assessment, "What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential," is a great template for the kind of rigorous self-assessment that middle market CEOs should be performing.
Kaplan asks CEOs to review their own actions and determine whether those actions align with their key priorities. "When someone asks you to spend time on work that doesn't match your key priorities," says Kaplan, "the right action is probably to say no." Leaders can certainly delegate tasks that they aren't prioritizing, as well. Kaplan also asks CEOs to solicit feedback from their subordinates as part of a fuller self-evaluation process.
Leaders can become isolated, notes Kaplan, and have limited access to feedback. They "may not realize that their direct reports have constructive advice regarding specific changes they need to make to improve their leadership effectiveness." While soliciting feedback can open you up to criticism, it can also enable learning opportunities. You may believe that you have been effectively communicating directives and matching your actions to the organization's key priorities, but your subordinates may disagree. Solicit their feedback — the insights they provide will help you gain perspective and put your leadership back on track.
What specific employee(s) should execs be seeking feedback from? Let us know what you think by commenting below.
Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+.