I have a confession to make: I am self-deceived. I feel 100 percent right at times when I am actually 100 percent wrong. I have blind spots. I know very little, I get emotionally hijacked, and I don’t know what I don’t know.
OK, that was a few confessions.
In 2020, as I do every other year, I asked our team at Correct Craft to do a 360-degree evaluation of me. Just a couple of months ago, separately, I asked each of my direct reports to suggest two ways I could be a better leader. I want to improve, and I know that I need feedback to do that.
We all want feedback when it is good. However, it’s our natural inclination to dismiss negative feedback, especially if it conflicts with our self-identity. Our perception of ourselves is incredibly powerful, and it is hard to dislodge; we can find all kinds of reasons for dismissing constructive criticism, and doing so is really easy if we are the boss.
Additionally, we tend to attribute our failures to circumstances while others attribute our failures to our lack of competency, chemistry or character. We discount how our emotions affect others, while those around us magnify those emotions. And we judge ourselves based on our intentions, while others judge us on our actions.
Everything I have written above is true about me, and it is true about you, too.
Couple this with the fact that feedback is often hard for people to give a boss, even when we ask for it, and there is a good chance that the boss (yes, you) has no clue about his or her real opportunities to improve.
Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this problem. If we can get beyond the insecurity of feeling a loss of control, or of having our self-identity threatened, there is tremendous value in feedback. Real feedback can make us all significantly more effective if we are open to listening.
Here are some ways you can use feedback to improve yourself and your organization.
Acknowledge the Value of Feedback
If you are using your position as a boss to discourage or deflect feedback, it is leadership malpractice. You are hurting yourself, your organization and your team.
Ask for Specific Feedback
Ask your team to give you a 360-degree review, and ask key employees to suggest specific ways that you can improve. It is difficult for many people to give their boss negative feedback, so it is the boss’s responsibility to make sure they are comfortable doing it.
Work to Understand the Feedback
Understanding the feedback does not mean you have to agree with it, but going through the process will help you learn from the feedback. The more uncomfortable the feedback makes you, the more there is to learn.
Find something in the feedback that you can use to become a better leader. If you cannot find anything, you are not working hard enough to understand the feedback.
Respond to the Feedback
If you ask for feedback, be sure you let your team know that you have considered it. If there are changes you plan to make, let them know that, too. Most important, do not discount the feedback or get defensive. How you react to feedback will significantly affect how your team responds the next time you ask for opinions.
Anyone who has read my writing or heard me speak knows the importance I put on being a learner, which includes having a growth mindset. Being a learner helps leaders in many ways, both professionally and personally. An important part of being a learner is accepting feedback.
If you are interested in exploring this idea further, I highly recommend the book Thanks for the Feedback by Harvard Law School professors Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. I learned a lot about feedback from this book, but two things in particular stand out.
First, when we are giving feedback, we need to clarify whether we are evaluating, coaching or showing appreciation. Ideally, according to the authors, each of these should be separate conversations.
Second, nothing affects a learning organization more than the way its executive team accepts feedback. If you want your team to learn and grow, you need to model that behavior.
I have been fortunate to be part of a lot of great teams that have done some impressive things. However, I have done very little of significance on my own. Feedback is a simple and inexpensive way to significantly improve yourself and your organization. I know I need help, and trust me, so do you.
Bill Yeargin is the CEO of Correct Craft.