The summer before my last year at Clemson I interned with Eli Lilly, the pharma company I would eventually start my career with post-graduation. I worked with customers on social media strategy in an industry that was still trailing in the fax machine days. (Hey Gen Z, do you guys even know what those things are?) (wait, did I just sound like my parents????)
Throughout the summer, the interns had three opportunities to spend time at the corporate headquarters: a kickoff, a midyear, and the final presentation.
I will never forget the midyear meeting, as I learned a powerful leadership lesson that has been reinforced throughout my career. I went in with the intention of developing relationships with leaders at corporate, but there was one in particular I really wanted time with. I’d heard about the Sales Director from reps across the country- he was spoken very highly of and inspired an incredible amount of loyalty from his salesforce.
So, totally inexperienced, 20-years-young Ali emailed this Director and asked for a meeting. And for some reason, he agreed. I went in with a list of questions, planning on taking tons of notes and impressing him with my killer question-asking skills.
The meeting did not go as planned. This Director flipped the script and drilled me for 45 minutes of my half-hour meeting with questions on social media, connecting with Millennials, and what opportunities I see within the business. I walked out of his office stunned.
Why would a businessman at his level EVER ask an inexperienced college senior for input?
Throughout my time at this company, I observed this particular Director ask for feedback many more times. It was a part of his language. Here are a few things I think this Director knows (and we should learn):
- No ONE is perfect and no COMPANY is perfect. No matter how far along you are in your career, there is always someone who knows more than you or has an idea that could positively impact your results. Just this morning, I sat through a meeting with my current manager and watched him negotiate. As I walked out of the meeting feeling like I still have much more to learn, I realized, “I bet he sometimes sits in meetings with higher execs or people with different skill sets and admires something about their approach.”
This isn’t just integral for leaders, but also for organizations. My current company does a great job at this by putting systems in place that keep feedback central. They’ve implemented objective Gallup tools to collect employee input on where the company is currently at and plans/needs to go in the future.
Why is being “imperfect” considered taboo? We all suffer from the disease of imperfection, so instead of being prideful or unwilling to admit growth opportunities, why don’t we view people around us as our greatest resources? Instead of viewing our organizations as perfect, why don’t we create cultures of transparent feedback?
- Feedback conversations deepen your relationships and levels of trust. It’s difficult to trust someone if you don’t believe they are willing to hear your ideas or input. And people won’t always offer input voluntarily…not everyone comes from an organization or from past relationships where feedback was celebrated or accepted. It’s on us to ask for feedback from people at work or in our personal lives.Being transparent about the process you’re in or the areas you’re working at not only makes you human, but also approachable.
I feel so strongly about this, I actually recently published a post on how to create feedback friendly relationships here.
- As a leader, asking for feedback and input creates buy-in from your team. Employees/members of your organization disengage much more quickly if they feel their input isn’t valued.
I’m starting a Marketplace Ministry in LA- a space to explore the intersection of faith and work and create a community of people who challenge each other to be ethical, loving, graceful, and pursue excellence in their careers. I recently hosted a focus group to ask a handpicked group of people for feedback and input before moving forward. I went into the meeting with the objective of gaining insight, new ideas, and potentially new connections but I left with much more. I left with buy-in from the whole group as they realized how necessary their input is in the success of the ministry moving forward.
Asking for feedback not only creates value for you, but also gives ownership to the one(s) giving their input.
Point blank: If you aren’t asking for feedback, you’re missing out on personal and professional growth. Forbes even published a study from Zenger Folkman that shows a very strong correlation between asking for feedback and overall effectiveness of leaders.
I’m encouraged to see the world rejecting perfection and embracing authenticity and vulnerability- yes, even here in Los Angeles. Asking for feedback is one of the best ways to practice vulnerability as you admit imperfection and create deeper trust with your friend or within your team.
This is the first post in a new series, “5 Conversations You Should Be Having.” Enter your email address in the bottom right corner to make sure to get the next one!