My company just had its midyear reviews.
I was pleased to see that most of the feedback I got as CEO was positive. People especially appreciated my work at a macro level: transparency around runway, industry trends, the status of the company, execution.
But my team did also identify some areas of growth.
They centered on communication. Specifically:
- People want more informal constructive feedback. As in, feedback that doesn’t happen in a formal setting, in front of the whole team, but on an ad-hoc, one-on-one basis.
- People need more clarity around specific expectations. I’m good at seeing and communicating the big picture, but I need to develop equal clarity on micro-level topics.
Two-way feedback is essential to the healthy function of any relationship. Both parties must give it, receive it, internalize it, and turn it into genuine change.
How I—and other founders—can make use of this feedback:
The overarching issue—which is one that has come up before—is that my way of thinking works at a founder level but is less effective at an operations level. That is, I’m a systems thinker, someone who thinks in a holistic way, seeing the big-picture relationships between seemingly disparate factors.
Our counterparts are linear thinkers, who break things down into component parts. Where a systems thinker might see the relationship between A and D, a linear thinker defines steps A, B, C, and D.
Founders tend to be systems thinkers. We’re the torchbearers for our companies’ mission and vision: We visualize the ideal end goal, articulate it to the team, and sell it to investors. But in order for the company to actually deliver on its promise, we need linear thinkers who can make the vision concrete.
In light of this realization and my recent feedback, I’ve boiled down a few action steps for how to improve as a leader going forward. I think most founders can benefit from these steps as well.
1. Recommit to “radical candor.” Radical candor is a concept I first learned about in 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. In essence, it means speaking the truth in a respectful way—not withholding information because I worry it might be hurtful.
Informal constructive feedback is a natural part of radical candor. If a leader is in the habit of communicating openly with their team, they will be comfortable talking about both wins and opportunities for growth as they happen. Radical candor, and the constructive feedback that goes with it, is a sign of respect: It shows employees that you have faith in their ability to grow.
2. Better communication from A to B to C to D. My natural tendency is to describe steps A and D and assume that everyone will intuit B and C. This round of feedback reminded me that not everyone is a systems thinker, and that part of my job is articulating things in a language that the whole organization can understand and work with.
Thus, I have to consciously remind myself to describe the entire arc of a project, not just the takeoff and landing points.
3. Hire people who can translate my systems thinking into linear thinking. In addition to getting in the habit of communicating in a more linear way, I need people around me who know how to extract A→B→C→D from my A→D thinking. It’s sort of a failsafe if I’m too occupied to get into the weeds on a particular initiative.
This person would probably be a Chief Operations Officer or a Head of Operations—someone whose superpower is turning an abstract goal into specific action steps.
Personal growth always matters on an abstract level. Our lives are more meaningful when we aspire to be more perfect than we are today. But when you’re running a company, personal growth can be the difference between success and failure: achieving that ideal goal, or getting lost in mixed signals. Midyear reviews are a great opportunity for founders like me to take stock and adjust.