Asking for feedback as a leader

Asking for feedback as a leader
By Marc Littlemore
4 min read

I had an interesting catch up with a wonderful colleague, Blanca Garcia Gil, today. We talked about the role of a software engineering team lead and also about giving and receiving feedback. After giving me a compliment which I didn't expect, she noticed that I was taken aback by it. The thing that came to light from our conversation was that managers don't receive as much feedback as their team do and they probably should.

As a leader, your job is to guide your team and part of that is to offer constructive feedback on a regular basis. Feedback is a process that needs regular attention. If it needs to be given then it should be around that time that any situation has happened for both good and not-so-good feedback. It's not a process that should wait for a yearly review otherwise it comes as a shock. Frequent, informal feedback should feel normal and shouldn't be difficult to deliver, nor unexpected for your team.

I realised that I need to improve at asking for feedback so it made me wonder what I should do. Asking for feedback demonstrates a growth mindset and a need for continuous improvement. I know that I should be taking the initiative to get better at asking for feedback as well as giving it.

Who should I be asking for feedback from?

First and foremost, I need to be checking in with my own manager in our weekly 1:1s and asking for feedback on my own work. Sometimes 1:1s can head into a discussion of the day-to-day work of the team rather than my own development. I need to ensure that we talk about my own development and how I can improve on a regular basis.

Asking for feedback from my team in their 1:1s is something I try to do but sometimes without realising it. If you've built a relationship of trust with your team, this should be a natural conversation. As our team transitioned into a new way of working in early 2020, I often asked what I could do better to support my team. If you've built a healthy team cullture then you can get some good feedback in this way and not just from the most senior or confident people in your team.

I'm currently a Software Engineering Team Lead (but this will change soon!) and I need to engage with other team leads to gain more peer feedback. We'll all be going through similar challenges so to compare how we address them is helpful to build a community around the technical leadership team. It'll help me to understand how I can improve and any changes I need to make.

Asking for feedback is key to improving as a person and leader but how should you do it? You should prepare both yourself and your colleague or manager to ask for it to ensure you're both comfortable.

While it's easy to approach your manager and ask them for feedback, it's probably better to set aside some time when you can both discuss things in more detail. This gives both of you some time to prepare for the conversation. It can be a good idea to forewarn them of your expectations.

Asking "can you give me some feedback" without context is too general and a hard question to answer. Instead, preparing some questions in advance, and potentially sharing them with your manager, could be helpful.

Perhaps you want to ask about specific strengths and weaknesses or other areas you'd like to concentrate on. Some examples could be:

  • How can I get better at supporting the mission of our team?
  • What advice would you give me to help me improve my communication?
  • How can I prepare for our upcoming project X?
  • Which parts of my presentation could have been better?

Asking for specific advice makes it easier for you to understand the areas you need to concentrate on in order to grow.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I take a lot of notes. I'm currently a big fan of Obsidian, which allows me to link concepts in my notes together really easily, but a pen and notebook will do just as well. Ensure you capture any ideas from your manager or peers as to how you can improve.

There's little point in asking for feedback if you don't then use it. Take some time to reflect on what's been said, and the notes you've taken, especially if there is room for improvement. Consider how you could apply any suggestions to how you work and make a development plan for yourself. Perhaps creating a list of goals would be useful here.

Finally, don't forget to thank people for taking the time to give you feedback. It's not easy to give feedback and we should all be doing it more regularly than we probably do. Make sure you thank people for their time and thoughts and use it to help your personal development and growth.

Marc Littlemore avatar

I'm Marc Littlemore.

Iā€™m a Senior Software Engineering Manager who works with high performing development teams and loves to help to grow other software leaders and engineers.




Avatar image of Marc Littlemore šŸ¤– Marc Littlemore šŸ¤–

Thanks! I've enjoyed it but it's been hard work at times. It's been great to write so much though. It really made me think.

Avatar image of Blanca Garcia Gil Blanca Garcia Gil

Thanks again for writing this, and I have to say I'm loving your 30 day challenge šŸ˜‰

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