Feedback: 7 Tips for Growing as a Leader

Man holding his hand to his ear to hear better

Feedback: 7 Tips for Growing as a Leader  

By Peter Barron Stark | August 6th, 2012 | Communication / Leadership

In my last blog entry I went over the three things that happen when you don’t listen to feedback.

  1. You don’t know the truth
  2. You become increasingly incompetent
  3. You surround yourself with people who are comfortable being led by an incompetent leader

So, if you want people to tell you the truth, listen up. Here are 7 tips that will not only put you on the right runway, they will provide you with the tools to take off on the path to success.

  1. Ask for feedback often. Ask questions such as: What do you feel is going well in the organization or our department? What are the areas that, if improved, would make our team or organization even stronger? As a leader, what do you feel I am doing well? What are the areas that, if I improved, would make me an even stronger as a leader?
  2. Shut up and listen. When people give you feedback, the roles for each individual in the conversation are really clear. The role of the person giving feedback is to talk. The role of the leader is to shut up and listen. When a leader confuses the role and talks instead of listens, it discourages the person who is giving feedback, and they will actually back down and stop giving feedback.
  3. Don’t take the feedback personally. As hard as this recommendation sounds, to be great at receiving feedback, you can’t take the feedback personally. When you do, it puts you on autopilot with a need to defend why you do what you do. Instead, my recommendation is to get up in the balcony. Just like someone who is watching a play or symphony, get off the stage and try to view the feedback as a third party observer. Each time I’ve been able to view the feedback from the balcony, I come to the same conclusion–the person giving the feedback has a good point and they may actually be right.
  4. Recognize that the motive of the person giving feedback is to help. It is important to remember that the only people who will give you tough feedback are the people who really care about your success. People who tell you only what they know you want to hear don’t really care about you–they only care about themselves and appearing successful in your eyes. One of the biggest mistakes we see leaders make in their career is not knowing who really cares about their success.
  5. Ask clarifying questions. Instead of defending why you do what you do, ask clarifying questions of the person who is giving you feedback so that you can better understand their point of view. With the information provided by one or two additional questions, you might just find out that the person giving you the feedback is actually right.
  6. Thank people who give you feedback. If you can get in the habit of thanking people for caring enough about you to give you honest feedback, you will always know the truth. My favorite response, whether it is to my wife, my children, my staff, or a client is: “That was tough feedback. Thank you for caring enough about me to share that feedback because I needed to hear it.”
  7. Take action. While being good at accepting feedback is one thing…taking action on the feedback you received is what separates a good leader from a great leader. As a leader and a parent, one of the toughest pieces of feedback I have ever received is that someone was “using” me. When the person told me this feedback point blank, my initial gut feeling was anger. As I thought about this over the course of no less than a minute, I realized that the person giving me the feedback was communicating two really important points. First, they really cared about me to communicate something they knew I had no desire to hear. And second, they were right. That feedback was given to me at 4:00 pm on a Monday afternoon. On Tuesday at 8:00 am, I went to the person who gave me the feedback and said the following:

    • First, thanks for caring enough about me to provide this tough feedback.
    • Second, I think you are right.
    • Third, here are the actions I intend to take based on your feedback.
    • Fourth, here is the help I need from you to successfully implement this change.

As a leader, I feel my success is in direct proportion to the people who have had the guts to give me honest feedback. My family, my clients, my team members, and my friends have all cared about me enough to give me honest feedback about where I could be even stronger as a leader. Thank you!

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