Discover These 6 Things From Founder Feedback

Photo by Jenny Ueberberg on Unsplash

When was the last time you wondered how your team really feels about you as their leader? Does the thought of finding out evoke curiosity or give you a pit in your stomach?

If you dread getting feedback, you’re not alone. In fact, even the most seasoned leaders can feel self-doubt about it at first. (Rest assured- it gets easier the more you do it!).

And though it may be tempting to avoid, Founder Feedback is actually one of the most important elements of your leadership practice.

Why? Quite simply, it’s the best way to know what you do that brings your team high energy, and what may take it away.

In extreme cases, leaders resort to getting feedback when either they as the founder- or their team- have reached a breaking point. They have no other choice but to find out what’s at the root of the friction.

But if you make Founder Feedback a regular leadership routine, it’ll never be a lagging indicator of what’s not working.

In fact, think of the data as a leading indicator — of what makes your team feel inspired and motivated, as well as potentially distracted or drained.


Here are 6 things you’ll discover through a high quality Founder Feedback process:

1. You’ll see yourself through your team’s eyes.

As human beings, we normally only see ourselves and our actions through our personal set of filters. We create our unique lens from our life experiences, which in turn shapes our beliefs, assumptions and interpretations.

In contrast, your team’s feedback enables you to view yourself through their lens. You can see how others experience you and can compare your team’s perceptions against your own. Why is this change of perspective so important? Because your success as a leader is directly correlated to whether they believe you motivate, inspire and align them.

2. You’ll discover the strengths you undervalue.

Many of us — especially those who battle self-doubt — can overemphasize our shortcomings and undervalue our strengths. Quite simply, we don’t believe our talents and gifts are as exceptional as others do. By seeing yourself through your team’s eyes, you can appreciate the exact ways in which you positively impact your team. This will allow you to draw on those natural strengths more intentionally, especially at crucial moments.

One founder who recently went through this process discovered that his honesty and sense of humor were key to getting the team through an intense funding round and product pivot. While he knew he possessed these qualities, he didn’t realize how profoundly it helped the team get re-energized and inspired during a dark period.

3. You’ll learn about your blindspots.

Like the strengths that we undervalue, we’re often unaware of our behaviors that get in the way of our true goals. During these moments, our style under stress can get activated and cause us to act less consciously and intentionally. And what we communicate- verbally and nonverbally- has an outsized impact on the person receiving it. Left unaddressed, blindspots can become one of the biggest blocks to long term success.

A founder with a passion for debating ideas learned that some on her team felt she needed to win these discussions at any cost. They felt put down by her tone and that their ideas weren’t valued. With this insight, the founder was able to make some small adjustments to her approach to create a more productive outcome.

4. You’ll understand your full impact on the team.

By getting input from multiple people, Founder Feedback creates a composite view of how you influence the team. You’ll understand how your presence affects their collective ability to create, share ideas, collaborate, problem solve, and express different points of view. Then you can intentionally choose approaches that best motivate your team.

A founder’s team sensed him shift into intense command mode whenever a timeline slipped. During these moments, he tended to make abrupt decisions that caused huge changes to people’s existing priorities. His intensity also elevated the team’s stress level, making it harder to focus on getting things done at an especially important time. The feedback motivated him to get help to manage his stress more productively.

5. You’ll gauge the team’s alignment.

How is your team interpreting your key messages? Are they excited by your new strategy or concerned about the pivot? This is your chance to understand how your team is responding to your story about where the company is going and what you want them to know, feel and do.

One founder learned that his team hadn’t entirely bought into his decision to launch a new product channel. Based on their feedback, he realized he had to spend more time providing context about the opportunity in order for the team to feel as confident about it as he did.

6. You’ll measure the level of trust in your culture.

The quality of the feedback you receive indicates how safe your team feels to share what they really think. This depth of honesty is a crucial marker of company culture; if your team filters their opinions, then you can’t fix their issues. Which means the issues will likely fester and eventually erode morale, retention and productivity.

One founder learned that her new Product lead was feeling his skills were underappreciated. He was even starting to question whether he should have taken the job. Because her Product lead had been completely candid, the founder was able to immediately address his concerns and get them aligned.

The process requires one final thing: an open mindset. Remember that you’re a work in progress. The feedback reflects how you’re showing up at this moment. With new insights, you can consciously choose your approach with your team in the future.

 

Great Company Cultures Are Made, Not Bought.

A new founder was venting to me recently that she can’t afford an impressive office space for her growing team. As a result, she lamented, her company’s culture was clearly going to suffer. 

 

It’s easy to see why she’d think that.

 

After all, the internet is filled with stories that equate a strong culture with “things”: laser tag outings, wine tastings, flashy retreats– and yes, award-winning office spaces.  

 

Good news, I replied. Your culture has nothing to do with your office space.

 

What Really Matters

In contrast, I described what really matters– like Core Values that mean something, or the way the team behaves when a mistake is made. But I could see that she struggled to fully connect with my explanation. 

 

Searching for a fitting analogy, I told her about a trail hike I’d recently taken. 

 


 

It was a quiet, sunny August morning, and I was hiking the trails of Block Island. When I rounded a bend, I came upon this tree: majestic and wild, with the sun glowing from behind. 

 

 

I paused in my tracks, captivated by its mystical beauty. And then I imagined how strong its roots must be, to keep its tangle of branches anchored to the earth. 

 

Your company is like that tree, I explained. And your company’s culture are the roots

 

Like a tree’s, your company’s roots are mostly invisible to the naked eye, but contain the substance and energy that feeds your company. They need to be strong and run deep in order for your team to thrive as it grows. 

 

Grow Strong Roots

Your company’s roots become stronger when you:

 

  • Know- and act in alignment with- your company’s Core Values. This means hiring people who share your values, and making tough decisions that keep you in line with your values.
  • Reward behavior that strengthens trust, collaboration and psychological safety– and avoid acting in ways that weaken or destroy it. 
  • Listen to- and act upon- what your employees tell you they need. Are your benefits too basic? Do they feel it’s too hard to get things done? Probe for what really matters.
  • Commit to continually improving- as a founder and as a company. Rather than being a sign of weakness, treating yourself and your company as a work in progress encourages people to be more open and creative.

 

If you’re still unclear about how to cultivate your culture, let these two questions lead you: 

 

Is what you’re doing nourishing your company? 

 

Will it help keep your company anchored for the unexpected setback? 

 

Here’s what a great company culture sounds like

We’ve all heard the glossy stories of companies that are celebrated for their impressive company culture. But here’s a well-kept secret: some of the best cultures can be found in places that you may have never heard of. 

 

These lesser-known startups aren’t focusing on their culture for the viral success story. They simply know who they are and they build around what they value. 

 

Since every company has unique Core Values, there’s no one right way to foster identity. Which means that external validation is a pretty meaningless barometer for creating the environment that your people can thrive in. A far better indicator is what your employees say about working there.

 

In fact, you can find the answer in the very words your employees use.

 

I recently spoke with several engaged employees who described what it’s like to work at their company. This is what it sounds like when you’re part of a culture with a lot of constructive and creative energy:

 

“There’s space for everyone to have a voice.”

“Everyone is true to themselves and the work we’re doing.”

“We can rely on and understand each other.”

“I’m emotionally attached to this business.”

“I’ve been in the trenches with this company and this company has been in the trenches with me.”

“I can be who I am; I don’t need to be a character.”

“I have the freedom to try new things, be creative; I’m encouraged to ‘be more me.’”

“This company has taught me that you can actually not burn out at a job- not feel like your entire life is being sucked out of you.” 

 

When people are respected and accepted, they focus on their work, rather than worrying about how others will react. They’re curious and love learning new things. They share their opinions. They act intentionally and seek outcomes where all win.

 

As a result, the team has a broad and rich understanding about their priorities. And people tend to feel deeply connected to their work and their company.

To better understand your team’s engagement, listen to the words they use. Get the conversation started by meeting with each of your employees and asking them thoughtful, open-ended questions. You’ll quickly learn what does versus doesn’t matter to your people and your culture.