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Weekend Read: Getting Honest Feedback, The Steve Jobs Way

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I recently came across a fascinating Business Insider article about one of the more important leadership traits possessed by Apple’s Steve Jobs.  If you’re familiar with Jobs’ story you know there were times in his career when he wore multiple hats, like running Apple and Pixar at the same time.  In those periods being able to get direct and honest feedback from staff members was critical, because he couldn’t be hands on with the day-to-day aspects of everything at once.

So how did he do it?  The most obvious way was to ask questions.  But how many times have you been in a team meeting where the big boss asks “if there are any questions”, only to be greeted by crickets since everyone was afraid to speak up and give honest feedback.  So Steve Jobs took a different approach.  Instead of asking the broad “have any questions” question, which could be answered with a simple no, he called out individual team members and asked specific questions which required elaboration.  This could be questions like “Tell me what’s not working at Pixar?”, or “Tell me what’s working at Apple?”.  Jobs would keep asking questions like this of team members in the room until he got a sense of the issues at hand.  Interestingly he made it a point not to ask the senior managers present who would give polished answers that nobody would contradict.  Instead he asked front line workers who were closest to the challenges of the day.

After reading this I thought about how many meetings (probably hundreds) when I’ve asked if there were any questions without getting a response.  I’m pretty sure I’ve brushed off the lack of feedback by saying something cute like “silence is golden”.  In all honesty silence in an organization isn’t golden.  Steve jobs new that and found a way through it.  Most managers, including myself, could probably apply this lesson for the betterment of the team and entire organization.

 

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