The concept of soliciting feedback on your performance at work might sound strange.
Mandatory performance reviews are stressful enough — it seems almost masochistic to subject yourself to hearing about your failures and “areas for improvement” when it’s not required.
Yet experts say the most successful leaders are often the ones who actively seek feedback and advice from the people they work with.
According to Suzanne Bates, CEO of Bates Communications and author of the new book “All the Leader You Can Be,” successful leaders often have peer mentors, or coworkers who they regularly exchange feedback with.
Bates says seeking feedback on your performance is a critical step on the path to developing executive presence, which she defines as “the qualities of a leader that engage, inspire, align, and move people to act.”
In an interview with Business Insider, Bates said that “people who have peer mentors (and mentors) tend to rise faster through their organization” than people who try to go it alone.
A peer mentor — i.e. someone who holds a similar level position as you — is especially valuable because it helps you “think of yourself as someone with something to give,” Bates said. Not only is your mentor telling you about your apparent strengths and weaknesses, but you’re also giving that person your advice.
“The best mentoring relationships grow out of some mutuality,” she said. “When it’s a two-way street, the relationship is more real and valuable.”
Bates added that it’s valuable if your peer mentor works in a different business or department at your organization. It’s even better if you’ve worked with that person on a cross-business or inter-department project.
To start the conversation about mentorship with that person, you might say something like:
“We’ve gotten to know each other and I’ve enjoyed working with you. I don’t know much about finance [or whatever department the person works in] and I would love to spend time and learn more about it.”
Bates’ ideas about peer mentorship are especially important in the context of research from leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman. According to their findings, younger people tend to make better managers, partly because they’re receptive to feedback and always trying to improve.
Meanwhile, bestselling author Simon Sinek says the most successful leaders have a “buddy,” or someone who also aspires to leadership. Buddies regularly exchange knowledge and advice in order to keep each other from getting too caught up in the trappings of wealth and fame.
The takeaway here is that, while receiving feedback might be scary, it’s crucial for leadership development. And asking for feedback reminds us that leadership is hardly a one-person experience — instead, it’s a process that requires constant input and tweaking from others.