What if critical feedback could transform your leadership?

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The feedback the leaders I work with is almost always well balanced between the positive and the critical. Yet its common for them to get most emotional over what they view as the negative comments.

It took me time in the early years of being a coach to get used to the reactions leaders had when I debriefed them on their 360 feedback results.  Shock, sadness, anger, denial, and embarrassment are but a few. There were more tears than I anticipated. At the same time, I learned to help them to gain some perspective about what others say about them.

Are you avoiding getting feedback from others because some of it might be critical?  You might be passing up some valuable information you need to understand your strengths and areas for development. My suggestion is to temper your immediate emotional reactions to tough feedback by:

Giving yourself time to digest the information. Take a step back to understand that the feedback you get will most likely include a healthy balance between what you are doing well and where you need to improve. Your immediate focus on the critical aspects of what others think will throw you off guard and bury your many strengths. Its important for you to be aware of the the strengths others see in you too.

Realizing its someone’s perspective when critical information is provided. Settle down, take some time, and consider what’s being said. Discuss the feedback you’ve received with someone you trust who can help you to see the balance and give another perspective to the information. Realize that any feedback you receive is someone’s opinion, not necessarily the absolute truth.

Knowing that you can choose how you want to feel and/or act upon the information that has come back from others. Ask yourself if you buy into what you’ve heard and if so, whether it’s worth your time and effort to do something about it. On the other hand, the opinions and perspectives of others might just have some merit that is important to your future success.

Understanding that the positive and negative information are both valuable for your development. Yes, it’s great to know that others know and appreciate your strengths. And its also good to know what they think your developmental needs might be (that’s in the critical stuff). Those critical things might be the things you need to work on that give you the boost to become a great leader!

Yes, you should consider seriously what others think about you and your leadership. That doesn’t mean you agree with the feedback or that you have to do anything about it. You can still make some choices. Is the feedback you received worthy of your time and effort? Will it will make a difference in lifting your leadership from good to great? If the answers are yes then you know what to do.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

4 comments on “What if critical feedback could transform your leadership?

  1. My inner perfectionist wants to avoid negative feedback at all times, but I have been fortunate to work for an organization for the past 21 years that is committed to crucial conversations and has developed national standards for Healthy Work Environments. We are required to seek feedback from others on our performance, and to provide the same for others, and this becomes a habit, so hopefully we are not often , blindsided during evaluations, but there are always opportunities for growth and improvement. While my Director is highly skilled at providing feedback, I find it difficult to immediately what I perceive to be “negative” comments, even though they are accompanied with exemplars, etc. What has worked for me is to have an agreement with my Director to receive the input and then take time to process it and set a later date to come back for discussion and plans for growth. None of us are perfect, but all of us can be better.

  2. Carol, I wish everyone could work in companies that require the leaders to seek feedback from others on performance AND behaviors. I also appreciate your strategy to reflect and process on the feedback and then come back for developmental discussions. You indeed must be an evolved human being to realize that you can always be better (we all have latent potential that is waiting to be unleashed and feedback can be the spark for that)! Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  3. Hello! I used to take feedback really bad, always way too personally, and to a degree that it pushed me down really bad. Over the last couple of years, from working close with my speaking coach, I have learned to have a totally different relationship to feedback. Today it is probably the thing I love the most! It is THE most powerful factor in our leadership, and everything else for that matter, to help us improve. When we can see it for what it is; feedback, input on how someone else perceives us or our performance, then we can take that “data” and tweak our delivery. Great post!

  4. Annica, you are are great example of learning to take feedback and take action on it. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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