One of the hard things about being an entrepreneur -- especially if you’re a sole or primary founder -- is the echo chamber. It’s that vague place where much of the feedback is an echo of your own voice, often because there’s no one else there to counter it. The hard truth is that when you are the leader, finding avenues for genuine feedback is, well, hard. Finding a way to get real feedback, on the other hand, can lead to tremendous personal growth.
While there are any number of formal and informal approaches entrepreneurs pursue (to varying degrees) to combat this problem, an excellent one is subjecting yourself to a “leadership survey.” The one I have adopted is an anonymous survey completed by every member of the Fundamental team, once a year. (Note: If you have a small or even no team in your company, consider asking your clients and other key business partners to participate). It measures me on 18 individual and specific leadership behaviors -- and allows the respondent to rate me on how consistently they feel that I exhibit each one. (1 = Never, 2 = Sometimes, 3 = Usually, 4 = Always) The statements are designed such that 4 is the ideal score.
In 2014, my aggregate score was 3.14 – barely better than a “B” -- and although I beg to graded very harshly, it is still difficult for me to swallow. My lowest score (2.5) was on “Effectively delegates to others.” My highest (3.75) was on “Proactively learns and encourages other to do the same.” And I’m still trying to learn.
I should note here that survey we chose to use was originally designed by XXX. It is widely used by any number of companies including notably Proctor & Gamble.
Improving my leadership scores is one of my primary professional objectives and I am indebted to my team at Fundamental for genuinely helping me do so. This exercise is now an ingrained part of our company-wide OGSM (Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Measures) – and I am personally tasked with ensuring that our OGSM is not a once-a-year type exercise, but rather one we keep alive and well in our daily work. Whether it is a weekly portfolio or pipeline review, monthly operations or development sessions, quarterly financial or investments meetings, our OGSM flows through every single interaction we have together as a team.
Implementing a leadership survey is not the easiest thing to properly do. The largest challenge is making sure that the feedback is real and ensuring that team members feel confident that their responses are appreciated and will be kept anonymous and confidential. In our case, we have the great fortune of having an outside advisor fully engaged in our process. This individual is the retired president of a $350 million company -- and one who subjected himself to this same survey in each of the last 20 years of his tenure at his company. He is also a consummate professional and a person that has come to know my personal foibles over the span our of 15-year friendship. He tells me “how it is” -- and what my team at Fundamental is really telling me.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the Fundamental team trusts our advisor implicitly, values his involvement, and (in my view) they are far more apt to tell me how they really feel knowing that their feedback is anonymous and that he will ensure that it is stays that way.
I’m an entrepreneur myself and (with attribution to Ben Horowitz, Co-Founder of the Venture Capital firm, Andreessen, Horowitz) I’ve learned few things about The Hard Thing About the Hard Things, the title of Ben’s new book. The value of leadership and making it a priority to try to be a better leader being two of them.
Whatever you call it -- echo chamber, blind spots, or otherwise -- and however you see fit to address it, I encourage any entrepreneur to value leadership highly and to put it to a test. A real test. Few people know your professional skills and foibles better than the people you lead every day. Put your own leadership to the test and I guarantee you’ll see what I mean.