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A US Marine veteran says all leaders should ask an uncomfortable question to learn what people really think of them

Shana Lebowitz
angie morgan

(Their answers are a "gold mine," Angie Morgan says.Business Insider)
During my adult life, I've learned that I stutter when I'm nervous, that I barely talk in groups of four or more people, and that I slouch almost always.

By "learned," I mean a friend, a coworker, or a family member told me, I got defensive and refused to believe it was true, and then I subsequently caught myself in one of these behaviors and realized their assessments were extremely accurate.

These sometimes unflattering assessments are what Angie Morgan calls a "gold mine." Morgan, a Marine veteran, is a coauthor of the new book "Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success" along with Courtney Lynch and Sean Lynch. Morgan and Courtney Lynch are cofounders of the leadership-development firm Lead Star.

In "Spark," Morgan and her coauthors write that it's important for leaders at any level of an organization to actively solicit other people's feedback. That's because they most likely know a lot about us that we don't.

Morgan visited the Business Insider office in March and said a person could start collecting that feedback by asking a simple question: "Can you please share with me two things I'm doing really well in this circumstance and two areas where you think I can improve?"

You can pose this question to your direct reports, your peers, or even your supervisors.

At first, Morgan said, "people might be a little, 'I don't know where you can improve,' or, 'I don't want to give you criticism.'" But if you keep asking, and if you show a willingness to receive that information (i.e., by thanking them and not getting defensive), over time they'll open up.

"A lot of people we work with and around hold the key to how we can be more successful in either relationships or at work," Morgan said. "People observe me every day, and they may have tips or ideas for how I can be better."

US Marine Salute

("I personally think I'm good when it comes to credibility — but would my colleagues share that same opinion of me?"AP/Bullit Marquez)
Morgan's insights recall something executive coach Marshall Goldsmith wrote in his 2007 book, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There."

According to Goldsmith and his coauthor Mark Reiter, it generally matters less what you think of yourself and more what other people think of you. That's why even though unsolicited feedback can be painful it's almost always helpful.

In "Spark," Morgan and her coauthors write that it's important to "challenge yourself to consider the points of view of others, such as by asking yourself, I personally think I'm good when it comes to credibility — but would my colleagues share that same opinion of me? What about my manager? What about my friends?"

Trying to put yourself in someone else's shoes isn't as effective as asking the person directly for feedback. But given that you can't solicit feedback on every single behavior, thinking about your actions from other people's perspectives is a good habit to practice.

The goal here isn't to become obsessed with the image you're projecting at work or elsewhere.

Instead, it's to realize that there might be a discrepancy between the way other people see you and the way you see you — and to acknowledge that other people might be able to help you become the best version of you.

Watch the full interview below:

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