Can a PR leader ask for feedback without losing authority

Leaders need to be detached. Which means getting off the dance floor and going to the balcony.

There is a strong correlation between asking for feedback and the overall effectiveness of leaders. But  can you ask for feedback without risking your authority?

Sensitive to criticism?

At times I admit to having being sensitive when people  critiqued my PR efforts. You may have experienced something similar.  Invariably we try our best so when we do fall short, it can be uncomfortable when someone highlights our failures. Yet when people offer feedback it’s a terrific opportunity to improve performance.

PR managers may have substantial authority but they are only human. Like you and me they do not always make the smartest decisions or handle things the best way. When leaders lapse that’s understandable. Yet if those lapses continue,  teams must act and offer constructive criticism. If they don’t their strategies will struggle, tensions will rise and organisations will eventually lose faith in their communicators.

Open for benefits

Throughout my career I’ve met accomplished PR leaders who make it a habit to regularly seek feedback on their performance. They say being proactive puts them in better state of mind to receive criticism and shows people they are genuinely interested in building team morale, improving productivity and getting results. They also report it’s far healthier to solicit feedback than let a situation fester into a problem.

Research shows there is a strong correlation between asking for feedback and the overall effectiveness of leaders. A 2015 Forbes Magazine article claims top ranked leaders are also at the top in asking for feedback.

Formula for feedback

But how do you seek feedback from people who work for you without risking your authority? The successful PR leaders I know solicit and manage constructive criticism in remarkably similar ways:

  • Power ratios in organisations favour management so they know it can be stressful for junior PR professionals to suggest things let alone critique the boss. These leaders step around hierarchies and normalise the process of seeking feedback. They make it a regular part of staff meetings, planning cycles, campaign evaluations and other occasions.
  • Initially they accept any criticism quietly and without comment. They give their teams the psychological safety to raise issues and avoid turning conversations into confrontations.
  • In their book Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading, Ronald Heifetz and Martin Linsky talk about getting off the dance floor and going to the balcony: a metaphor for leaders stepping way from fraught situations and removing themselves to a mental balcony from where they can assess a situation and their own actions more clearly.
  • They respectfully hear what others are saying and might politely probe for clarification if that’s necessary. Occasionally they will end a discussion by asking for or summarising suggestions for future improvements. When issues are significant they may write up a meeting so they (and their team) can reflect on what’s being offered later and in more detail.
  • A common tactic is to let a conversation sit for 24 hours so they have the mental space to assess the merits of a criticism or suggestion. Then if an idea is valid they swiftly switch their attention to how they can put it to work for everyone’s benefit. Or they may ask the team, their peers or even their own managers if they need assistance or more information.
  • Staff who raise matters with the boss are mostly well-intentioned. The few who are serial complainers are quickly identified and tend to discount themselves from productive conversations about the future. People deserve to know if their issues have been duly considered and if and how they will be managed. By providing feedback to staff on staff feedback an astute leader inspires confidence, strengthens connections and shows she is genuine.

Next step

PR leaders who ask for feedback witness the positive results.

There is power in asking junior communicators for feedback on your own leadership efforts or technical skills. Your team feels their opinions matter and it quickly shows how you need to improve.

More information

Top Ranked Leaders Know This Secret: Ask For Feedback.




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