Over at the Harvard Business Review blogs, Linda Hill and Kent Lineback have a terrific post on the importance of knowing how your words and actions are perceived by those who report to you. As Linda and Kent rightfully point out, though, getting a truthful answer is easier said than done. Here are some of their top recommendations for getting honest feedback about how others see you:
Is there an easy give-and-take between you and your reports? Are you able to carry on a real conversation about a variety of topics, business and personal? Can you disagree and respectfully discuss your differences? Without such connections, which require time to establish, little else you do is likely to uncover others' thoughts and feelings, especially about you as a boss.
You needn't accept everything you hear. But when you disagree, do you seek clarification, pose thoughtful questions, and ask for examples? Or do you respond angrily and deny defensively what you're hearing? Only as people test your tolerance will you slowly build a reputation for a willingness to hear and accept candid comments.
Asking broad, general questions can feel threatening to those you're asking, particularly if they work for you. So, develop a practice of checking in with people at the beginning and end of a piece of work. Use the specific piece of work as a setting for a candid discussion of what worked and what didn't, where you might have done less or more, and what you should do differently next time.
Communicate regularly with a group of trusted advisers who are willing to provide their honest reactions to how you’re operating within the organization. Members of your development network are most likely to be peers and colleagues and may include a more senior mentor.
A good manager is willing to pass on what she hears about you from others. She also has access to organizational information and commentary not available to you and so can offer a broader perspective on how you're perceived.
As Linda and Kent point out, being able to accurately understand how you are perceived requires putting in time and effort to establish strong internal relationships, which, as a manager, helps you in many other ways as well.