By Mary Herrmann
As we progress in our careers and advance into more senior roles, opportunities to receive candid, constructive feedback become increasingly rare. As head of the organizational chart, CEOs are less likely to receive feedback on their leadership capabilities, communication styles, executive presence, and the many other aspects of leadership. The irony in this is that as our roles grow in responsibility, candid feedback becomes increasingly more important.
This is because leadership effectiveness is paramount for organizational success, even more so in the midst of transition and change. CEOs bear the responsibility of navigating their companies through dynamic environments, but they cannot do it alone. To unlock their full potential and impact on an organization, CEOs must embrace the gift of feedback—one that transcends traditional hierarchical models—to unleash the collective potential of their teams.
What is Stakeholder Feedback?
Stakeholder feedback is a transformative tool that gathers insights from multiple sources and is a critical component of empowerment for leaders to thrive in their roles. These insights are gleaned through intensive one-on-one interviews and group discussions with various individuals in the executive’s circle. For CEOs, these stakeholders can include board members, peers, direct reports, mentors, and individuals from outside the organization.
Interviewees are typically asked a range of questions about the executive at their best, leadership style, and impact on the organization. The specific questions vary depending on the leader’s and organization’s goals and priorities, but some common topics include:
- Leadership and vision
- Execution of strategy
- Relationship building and collaboration
- Performance and results
- Communication and influence
- Development and growth
- Organizational culture and values
For CEOs, the insight from these interviews helps to provide a holistic understanding of their performance and impact on the organization, including areas of strength, areas for improvement, and potential gaps to success.
If the CEO is new to their role, stakeholder feedback can accelerate their impact by providing valuable insights and context on their leadership impact. This was the case for one of my clients, the new CEO of a multi-billion-dollar security product brand.
Dave, a seasoned executive, was brought in amid significant organizational change and knew that he needed to make an impact as soon as possible. To do so, he immediately instituted a policy of unfiltered conflict, soliciting candid feedback from the leadership team on their concerns for the company and him as CEO.
Through facilitated stakeholder feedback sessions in the first month of Dave’s tenure, we were able to explore all the reservations and concerns his new leadership team had on the direction of the company as well as the strength of Dave’s leadership through the changes. This transparency helped to cultivate stronger relationships among the leadership team, setting the stage for the brand’s ongoing market dominance.
Benefits of Stakeholder Feedback for CEOs
Ken Blanchard, one of the most influential leadership experts in the world, said it best:
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
For high-performing CEOs, unfiltered stakeholder feedback is the fuel to their success. Why? Here are some of the top reasons…
Stakeholder Feedback Increases Self-Awareness
One of the most obvious and powerful benefits of feedback is that it provides CEOs with insights into their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to gain a better understanding of their own leadership style and how it impacts others.
In his book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and former president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, shares how he was initially unaware of how his actions and decisions were perceived by his employees. It was only when he started receiving honest feedback that he realized the impact of his leadership style.
In one instance, Catmull received feedback that he was not being as open and approachable as he thought he was, and that his employees felt he wasn’t fully considering their ideas and concerns. Catmull took this feedback to heart and made a conscious effort to improve his communication and listening skills. He also started holding regular “Notes Day” events where employees could openly discuss problems and suggest solutions.
Catmull’s eagerness to hear and act on feedback played a crucial role in fostering a culture of creativity and innovation at Pixar. It also helped him become a more influential leader and contributed to Pixar’s success as a leading animation studio.
By understanding themselves and their emotions, CEOs can navigate challenging situations with composure and authenticity, inspiring trust and confidence in their leadership.
Stakeholder Feedback Amplifies Business Strategy
Many of my CEO clients face the constant challenge of designing and executing effective business strategies in today’s increasingly volatile, complex business environment. The traditional top-down approach to strategy development no longer works and leaders must be willing to capture the diverse perspectives of their teams to help navigate complexities and drive success.
CEOs who actively seek feedback from stakeholders gain multifaceted viewpoints that help them align their strategic vision with the needs, expectations, and aspirations of the organization. At the same time, it creates a culture of innovation, encouraging employees to take initiative, propose innovative ideas, and contribute to the organization’s success.
Stakeholder Feedback Cultivates Trust and Rapport
Trust serves as the invisible force that binds stakeholders together, fosters loyalty, and promotes collaboration. For CEOs, trust is not just a desirable quality; it is a strategic imperative. It’s the foundation for building rapport and strong relationships with peers and employees.
A great example of this is the story of Howard Schultz, the former CEO and chairman of Starbucks. When Schultz returned as CEO in 2008, Starbucks was struggling with declining sales and a damaged brand image due to overexpansion and a perceived decline in the quality of its products and customer service. Schultz realized that he needed to rebuild trust and rapport with both employees and customers.
To do this, Schultz embarked on a “transformation agenda,” which included a series of open forums with employees held in cities across the U.S. and around the world. Schultz used these forums to communicate his vision for the company’s turnaround and to listen to employees’ ideas and concerns.
Schultz also made a point of visiting stores and talking to both employees and customers to get their feedback, often saying that the best ideas came from the people working in the stores.
Schultz’s willingness to listen to feedback and act on it played a crucial role in rebuilding trust and rapport with Starbucks employees and customers, ultimately helping the company turn around its performance and restore its brand image.
Stakeholder Feedback Builds Individual and Organizational Agility
Stakeholder feedback creates a heightened situational awareness that empowers CEOs with knowledge and insights to adapt quickly, make informed decisions, and seize opportunities that lead to growth and resilience.
When feedback is valued and encouraged, CEOs send a clear message that learning is an ongoing process. And when employees feel comfortable providing that feedback, it promotes a growth mindset throughout the organization. This collective commitment to learning helps the organization stay agile and adapt to changing circumstances.
Stakeholder Feedback Drives Accountability and Personal Growth
Leadership is an ever-evolving journey, and CEOs must continuously strive for personal growth. In the past, criticism was often perceived as a personal attack and was rarely directed at executives. Today, a large and growing population of CEOs see it for what it truly is: a catalyst for growth.
By embracing constructive criticism, CEOs demonstrate a commitment to personal and professional development. It serves as a mirror that reflects their leadership effectiveness, providing an invaluable glimpse into their perceived strengths and weaknesses by those they lead.
Stakeholder Feedback Bolsters Empathy and Inclusivity
One of the greatest leadership benefits of stakeholder feedback helps CEOs understand the experiences and perspectives of different individuals within the organization. This fosters empathy and inclusivity, enabling CEOs to make better decisions and create a supportive and diverse workplace culture.
Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, is known for his commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse workplace and often speaks about the importance of empathy in leadership. But despite the best intentions, CEOs of large and growing companies can miss tell-tale signs of inequity.
In 2015, two of Salesforce’s female executives approached Benioff about a suspected gender pay disparity in the company. Given his persistent efforts to achieve equality, he was hesitant to believe their concerns at first.
“I’m sure the look on my face betrayed the mix of indignation and astonishment I was feeling. I’ll admit, my defensiveness was welling up… I’d been working hard at this problem for three solid years,” Benioff would later recount in his book Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change.
Instead of dismissing their concerns, Benioff listened and took action. He commissioned an audit of all salaries at Salesforce, which confirmed the pay disparity. Based on the findings of the initial and subsequent audits, Salesforce spent a total of $8.7 million addressing differences in pay based on gender, race, and ethnicity. These efforts have paid dividends, landing Salesforce in the top spots for Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For,” People magazine’s “Companies That Care” and the Ethisphere Institute’s “World’s Most Ethical Companies.” All the while maintaining the largest market share for CRM technologies for nine years running.
By actively seeking and valuing input from all levels of the organization, CEOs can better understand and empathize with the needs of their employees. This understanding can lead to more informed and values-aligned decision-making, ultimately fostering a more inclusive and empathetic workplace culture.
The Role of Executive Coaching in Stakeholder Feedback
Executive coaches play a crucial role in helping CEOs solicit and act on stakeholder feedback. They provide a safe and confidential space for CEOs to explore their strengths and development opportunities, and to understand how their actions and decisions impact others.
Executive coaches can guide CEOs in creating effective strategies for seeking feedback, such as crafting the right questions and creating an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. They can also help CEOs process the feedback they receive, separating useful insights from the noise, and translating it into actionable steps for personal growth and organizational improvement. Through this process, executive coaches support CEOs in becoming more self-aware, responsive, and effective leaders.
Embracing Stakeholder Feedback for CEOs
Successful CEOs embrace and act upon stakeholder feedback for leadership development. The power of stakeholder feedback lies in its ability to provide CEOs with a multifaceted view of their leadership, enabling them to navigate complexities, inspire their teams, and drive organizational success.
As CEOs embark on the journey of harnessing feedback, they must recognize that it is not a one-time endeavor but a continuous process of growth and adaptation, through which CEOs can unlock their full potential and lead their organizations to bolder, brighter futures.
Interested to learn more about how Bravanti can help you build bolder, brighter futures with executive coaching? Book a complimentary consultation today!
About Mary Herrmann
Mary is Managing Director of the Global Executive Coaching practice at Bravanti, leading an extensive team of professional coaches in the U.S. and abroad. Mary and her team are focused on helping organizations drive change and deliver results through proven best practices in leadership and executive team development. Read more >
About Bravanti’s Executive Coaching Solutions
Bravanti’s Executive Coaching practice equips leaders and teams with the competencies and skills needed for courageous leadership. Through a best-practice methodology and a global cadre of highly credentialed executive coaches, Bravanti helps leaders tap int their own potential to align their goals, vision, and values; take action to remove barriers and change behaviors; and foster collaboration and accountability for high-level performance, delivering a measurable ROI to both the individual and the organization. For more information on our Executive Coaching services, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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