If we want to grow as a leader we MUST discover how to welcome and receive both developmental (corrective) and supportive (positive) feedback. Supportive feedback is not really difficult to listen to and it is important. Today we will focus on the more challenging end of feedback – receiving corrective feedback. I often ask the question – “What is worse then getting corrective feedback”? – My response – “Not getting it” – because we then have a huge blind spot. If we are going to create a feedback rich environment, the people who deliver the feedback must walk away with a couple of impressions. For this to happen we must:

  • Be approachable
  • Be teachable
  • Listen for understanding
  • Be grateful for the feedback.

Those four bullet points are key, so let’s break them down behaviorally. So lets dive into this challenge of not only receiving but inviting feedback.

What does it look like to be approachable? This means we not only accept feedback we ask for it. Many people are afraid to give us feedback because they are not sure we want it. Some are fearful we might retaliate or we might become argumentative. If we are approachable we need to make it clear that we want and need their feedback. One thing I do to create this type of environment is – I don’t sit behind a desk when we have this discussion (a desk can often be a symbol of aloofness or power). Work hard to create a “Thank you for talking to me” atmosphere.

How would it look to be teachable? We had just walked out of the Sunday Morning service, our lead pastor responded abruptly to another staff member and I heard it all. I was young at the time and this lead pastor was a very strong, seasoned leader – and I knew if I was committed to him I owed him some honest feedback. So I walked beside him and said, “I think you over delivered that and did more damage than good”. His response, “Do you think I owe him an apology”? – I said, “Yes”. He found the staff member and owned his error. It was at that point my respect for my boss went to another level. It was amazing to me that a seasoned leader would listen and respond to feedback and not defend his actions. What I learned later was because of his confidence and strength as a leader most people didn’t give him developmental feedback. I discovered that not only did he want it – he needed it. A teachable person also avoids making excuses for their behavior. Excuses are unhelpful – that same leader used to tell me that, “an excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie”! One obstacle that can keep us from teachability is rejecting feedback because we don’t like someone or maybe part of their feedback is not accurate.

How do I listen for understanding? St Francis of Assisi said, “Seek first to understand then to be understood”.   That means as I listen to the feedback I will:

  • Ask questions
  • Take notes
  • Ask for examples
  • Not become defensive
  • Suspend judgment

How can we show gratefulness? I believe we need to end the feedback session with something like – “You have given me a lot to thing about. I need to take some time and process. Thank you for being willing to do what many people find uncomfortable. I believe feedback is a gift – thank you!” Then, if necessary, schedule a time to talk more.

I firmly believe that leaders who demonstrate a willingness to receive feedback demonstrate character that people want and need to see in a leader. Does that mean this is easy? Of course not – and yet it brings the growth that we all say we want.

The truth is, at then end of the day, we have the responsibility to decide which piece of feedback (or non of it) to act on. Receiving feedback does not mean we change everything – it does mean we consider what they are saying.

This sounds simple and yet we know it is very challenging. Growing as a leader takes hard work and people who will invest in our development with unvarnished feedback. Once we have demonstrated that we are willing to embrace feedback – we have earned the credibility to give it. My next post will be on giving developmental or corrective feedback.

 What do you think? Leave me a comment.