Career Coach: Getting candid feedback is key for professional growth

August 21, 2011

It’s been said that effective development rarely occurs in isolation. Rather, professional growth and behavioral change often results from seeing yourself in a clearer view, after getting valuable input from others. Now you just need to go about soliciting honest feedback.

Those of you comic book fans (or recent movie goers) will appreciate that trusty sidekick Kato was always looking out for, and providing input to the Green Hornet. From a business perspective, Steve Ballmer transitioned from an overbearing “quant jock” in applied math and economics to a charismatic leader thanks to his willingness to stand up and hear feedback from Bill Gates and close friends and employees. Even Oprah Winfrey has been known to turn to her best friend, Gayle King (and editor-at-large for O, The Oprah Magazine), for candid feedback and insights. So who among your peers or colleagues can you turn to recognize your sharp edges or annoying habits and attain a higher level of self-awareness and career success?

As an executive coach, I often encourage my clients to seek out learning partners or confidants — individuals who can provide them with real-time, immediate feedback on their progress. Learning partners also provide a formal relationship structure to help individuals practice new skills, stay motivated, actively remain focused on specific goals and persist when the going gets rough. Through their support and monitoring, learning partners also serve as a great source of accountability to ensure that your desired behaviors are put into play and that you remain on the right track.

You can ask a mentor, colleague or friend to serve as a learning partner. Approach the relationship as something that is mutually beneficial — you can offer each other much-needed feedback and advice. Make sure you enlist the right learning partner for a successful relationship.

Here are some of the attributes of the ideal learning partner:

·Honest and direct: It won’t do you much good if your learning partner is going to sugar-coat everything. You need someone who is not shy about calling out counterproductive behaviors and can offer you constructive criticism for improvement.

·Role model: It’s also important that your learning partner or partners perform well in the area or areas that you’re trying to improve.

·Trustworthy: You want someone who is going to keep your specific career goals, your shortcomings and your insecurities confidential. The office “gossip” is probably not the ideal partner unless you want to become a water-cooler conversation topic.

·Reflective: The ideal learning partner appreciates the importance of taking time for self-reflection and will encourage you to do so.

·Diverse: I encourage my clients to leverage multiple learning partners so that they can minimize the biases from any one source and increase the accuracy of feedback. Learning partners should have different points of view.

·Goal-oriented: You need someone who is going to help you stick with your goals. Identify them before you approach a potential learning partner. This will also help you figure out the best partner matches.

Once you’ve established a learning partner relationship, it’s good to set benchmarks to measure your progress. Plan to check in regularly with your partner, whether in-person or by phone or e-mail. And if you have a big presentation, a job interview or an important first meeting, rely on your learning partner to help you feel prepared with a mock interview or even a quick pep talk.

According to leadership expert Ken Blanchard, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” So what are you waiting for? Reach for a big spoon and take advantage of what a learning partner can offer.

Jeffrey Kudisch is managing director of the Office of Career Services at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and a faculty expert in leadership, negotiations and human capital management. He has a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology and he co-founded Personnel Assessment Systems, a human resource consulting firm specializing in executive assessment and leadership development.

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