I’m a director-level corporate guy and have climbed that ladder, one rung at a time, but at a decent pace. I’ve never really understood the reasons behind my promotions. I mean, I’m a good producer, and people generally like me. But when I look around me, I don’t see how my job performance has been that much better than my counterparts. We do our usual performance reviews twice per year, and I get the generic feedback that those elicit. I guess I want to know more. I want to know how my boss perceives me and what it is I’m doing that’s earning me more leadership. Even with the new job titles and my current place in an org chart, I don’t know where I stand.
– Corporate Climber
Dear Corporate Climber,
I’m not very familiar with performance reviews. The herd has a very different system of feedback. I’m grazing along, thinking about what it would be like to live out each day as a horse and not know where I stand with my herd.
You see, we are family. We rely on each other for everything. Simply put, our survival depends upon knowing where we stand. Cohesion is vital to our protecting each other and providing the multi-dimensional alert system for what our group needs. So, to imagine a world without that security, without an ongoing exchange of information, is frightening. Are you frightened, Corporate Climber?
It might be hard to feel that fear at first glance, because you’re busy, in your head, and engrossed in the day-to-day work, right? But stop a moment and get into your body. Really consider that you don’t know where you stand, you don’t know why people like you or your work, and you don’t know what to keep doing or what to stop doing. You are truly in the dark. You are lost. You are alone.
Sorry to rub this in — I certainly don’t mean to cause you harm or hurt. But it might be time to wake up, my friend. Plant your hooves in the dirt and demand some answers. Okay, perhaps you should ask nicely, as I gather that you people like to play polite in your pastures.
Feedback is a collaboration. If your boss isn’t giving you adequate feedback, it’s your turn to give him or her some feedback, in the form of questions. You have needs. It’s okay to express those! And you can learn from doing so. If you’re on that corporate ladder, it means you have people you are mentoring or leading. I bet it’s time for you to give concrete and usable feedback to them as well.
We really need to turn this whole question on its head. What’s the purpose of the feedback? Is it to check a box, or to be a learner? When we’re raising colts, we give them very precise feedback so that we can guide them about the dos and don’ts of our culture. This helps them to be good citizens and to stay safe. A lot of the time, they look to their elders and ask for feedback. It shapes how they develop.
Mr. Corporate Guy, I suppose the bucket-of-grain question here is: do you want to develop? And if so, are you ready to lead that desire? It seems you’re putting the responsibility of your own growth in the hands of another. Is that wise? Or, can you be your own advocate here? What would it look like to come up with your own development plan based on what parts of your leadership YOU want to grow?
If your boss isn’t showing much initiative here, maybe you can take the lead. Come up with your ideal plan for what kind of job you want to grow into, and what learning it will take to get there. Share it with your boss and ask for feedback. That’s right! Ask for feedback. And then get ready to feel the freedom of your own leadership gallop forward.