One of the most challenging things that we do as leaders is to give and receive feedback. It has been my experience as an executive coach and former leader that no matter how well crafted, feedback can be difficult to deliver in a way that builds trust and supports the development of your team, and yet it is a large part of our daily lives. Most assume that feedback is always negative although, by definition, it is simply the evaluation of your behavior, and can be either negative or positive. But for this post, let’s assume that the feedback you’re facing right now falls into the “needs improvement” column.
Glass Half Full?
As the saying goes, “negative feedback isn’t always bad and positive feedback isn’t always good.” If a leader is continually praising those around him or her, the assumption is that everyone is knocking the cover off the ball and there’s no need for improvement, which is unlikely and a missed opportunity to challenge and develop people. Negative feedback, however, provided in the right context and with the right delivery and intention, is perhaps one of the best ways to elevate the performance of your team and set them up for long-term success. Great leaders find a way to reframe feedback from a judgment of who we are to an input mechanism for growth and development.
But what if it’s you, the leader, under the microscope? Are you prepared to receive feedback from peers, subordinates and supervisors in an open and curious way, or do you tend to go on the defensive when critiqued and shut down? Providing and receiving feedback requires transparency and a level of vulnerability that make most of us uncomfortable. But if you manage to channel the courage to give and receive feedback, and empower those around you to do the same without the fear of retaliation, you cultivate an honest dialogue the leads to better performance for both you and your team.
How to Receive Feedback
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 willing to hear the feedback and willing to change the behavior. If you aren’t willing to change the behavior, would you consider alternatives such as creating another opportunity for him to have a break later in the day? It is important to remember that giving and receiving feedback is only part of the equation. Demonstrating that the feedback has been heard through action creates the change.
Consider these tips for receiving feedback:
It is often said that feedback is a gift. Sometimes, it may feel like a gift you want to return, but I encourage you to hold on to it, open it up, and see the benefit it can be to you as a leader. It also takes non-defensive behavior to clearly articulate gratitude for the feedback and courage to be clear about what behaviors would be more effective, even if the corrective behaviors fall in your court. Embrace the art of feedback as one of your leadership super powers to be practiced and flexed to develop and engage others in pursuit of high performance.