It gets lonely at the top. Leaders of all stripes tend to rely on just a small group of people for advice when making decisions. Yet all too often, this team is full of head-nodders who do not provide honest input. How do you choose your inner circle the smart way?
Great leaders rely on honest feedback from a core team. The ability to seek out advice from a diverse group is what separates great leaders from good ones. Great leaders surround themselves with people who are different from them, who may even frustrate them. But this challenges their thinking and results in better quality decisions.
An Executive must be strategic in building a team he/she can rely on for balanced feedback. Here’s how:
Find Your Blind Spots
First, start with some self-reflection, consider what your weak spots are personally and professionally, and seek out a coach if you need some help. Also, look at the inner circle you rely on right now – is it really balanced? If you have strong financial skills, for instance, but struggle to manage conflict on the team, find someone who excels in people management. Build where the gaps are.
Look Within and Outside Your Current Organization
Leaders include both finance and HR managers from their companies among their A-Team in order to get the numbers and the people right. These are two areas bosses might overlook, but advice from these corners can help them think through overall strategy better. While it is important to choose your inner circle from among people inside the organization — they know the culture and dynamics – it is equally crucial to bring in outsiders who can offer a different perspective and raise red flags. Finally, it is a good idea to fill out the circle with a long-time colleague or friend who knows you well personally. These individuals can put a mirror up to your face and show you patterns in your behavior.
Offer Advisors a Safe Place
The higher you go in an organization, the more opinionated you become. Strong leaders might not tease out the most honest opinions from those around them, especially direct reports. It is the job of a great leader to create an environment where others feel safe speaking openly, even if it is to criticize. Research, too, shows that leaders who actively solicit feedback are more effective . This starts with an authentic desire to continually improve yourself and the belief that everyone’s opinion matters.
A leader’s primary role is solving problems, and nothing helps that process more than being able to brainstorm and bounce ideas off peers you can trust to provide frank feedback. You cannot underestimate how important building the right inner circle is to success.