The Gift of Feedback

One of the most challenging things that we do as leaders is to ask for and receive feedback. Over the years of providing executive coaching, I’ve learned that no matter how well feedback is crafted, it can sting, and yet it’s everywhere in our daily lives.  Think about the bathroom scale, a mirror and performance reviews.  Most sources of feedback seem to fall into the “needs improvement” column.

Great leaders find a way to reframe feedback from a judgment of who we are to an input mechanism for growth and development. As a leader, you have to ask yourself if you are prepared to receive feedback from peers, subordinates and supervisors in an open and curious way, or if you are defensive and unprepared to respond to any and all requests.  It takes courage to give and receive feedback. It also takes non-defensive behavior to clearly articulate gratitude for the feedback; then be clear about what behaviors would be more effective.

Here’s a bit of reality. Imagine that you start asking your direct reports for feedback, like, “What do I need to start doing, stop doing or continue doing to improve our working relationship?”  Maybe one brave member of your team tells you that you need to stop scheduling so many meetings during lunch because that’s his only time to take a break during the day.  As the leader, you have to decide if you are wiling to hear the feedback, and if you are willing to change the behavior.  If you aren’t willing to change the behavior, are there alternatives? Is there a way to collaborate with this subordinate to create another opportunity for him to have a break in the day? Or something else?  Think about how you can be open and also have your own thoughts about the feedback without being perceived as defensive and closed to feedback.

A few tips for receiving feedback:

  • Reframe the way you think about feedback as a gift for your growth and development. It’s data and perhaps insight into a blind spot that you can’t observe about yourself.
  • Receive the feedback without judgment of the giver or of yourself. Assume that the giver has good intentions, and may not always have an elegant way of delivering the message.
  • Take notes and ask for clarification and examples. This demonstrates your sincerity while making sure that you clearly understand the feedback.
  • Thank the person for her courage, and tell her what you are willing to do next.

Feedback is complicated and also essential for great leadership, and no one is born with an innate ability give and receive feedback. It’s a practice that can be developed as a component of your leadership brand.