Should leaders ask for feedback? Of course. Everyone should desire constructive input that can help them learn and improve. Do they ask for feedback? Oh, now we might have a very different story! Bradley Busch recently wrote a blog post for the British Pyschological Society's Research Digest about a study of feedback-related behaviors by primary school teachers. Busch summarized the research findings of James Spillane, Matthew Shirrell, and Samrachana Adhikari. The three scholars recently published a paper in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis titled, "Constructing “Experts” Among Peers: Educational Infrastructure, Test Data, and Teachers’ Interactions About Teaching. Spillane and his colleagues examined the tendency for teachers to ask for, or not ask for, feedback from their peers. Busch highlights a key finding from this study:
The researchers found that the best teachers, as measured by those who had a higher percentage of students who met the minimum requirement to pass their class, and whose classes had higher than average test scores, were no more likely to be sought out by their colleagues for their advice. On the other hand, these expert teachers were the ones who were actually more likely to seek advice from their peers the following year. It seems that the better the teacher performed, the more likely they were to go out and obtain feedback on how to be even better.
The finding that the most able are not particularly sought after for their advice and are instead more likely to seek it from others is perhaps unsurprising. Other research, known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, has found that the least able tend to have an inflated view of their abilities, which would presumably lead to them seeking out less feedback. After all, why would one seek out advice if they think there is little room for development? As for the expert teachers in this study, the researchers speculate that their advice-seeking tendencies may be explained as “they represent a group of teachers who are constantly striving to improve by seeking out advice and information from others”.
For me, the study leads naturally to a question about leaders in a variety of organizational settings. Do the highest performing leaders have a tendency to ask for feedback more often than lower performing individuals? Are the highest performers not sought out more often by their peers for help and advice? Future research should explore these interesting questions. My sense is that we will find results quite similar to those described here in an educational setting.