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Leadership and feedback

Everyone wants to know the truth, no matter how difficult it is to hear. But even though we want to hear honest and direct feedback, we generally don’t look on those occasions with much joy or pleasure.
Feedback is information from our environment about how it is responding to us. With that information, we can judge if we are on target or off target toward whatever goals we may have within that environment. It is sound and current data that is available to us at all times, though we are often paying insufficient attention to notice it. Feedback allows us to evaluate to what extent the impact of our behavior is congruent with our intentions. The more we can fine-tune our behavior to be in sync with our intentions the greater will be our effectiveness.
That’s easier said than done. When we mess up, we feel like a loser, and our confidence can take a hit. When that happens, it is sometimes helpful to keep a few stories in mind of people that messed up way worse than most of us could ever dream of yet ended up smelling like a rose.
The ability to give and receive feedback is one of the most important leadership skills. Effective goal achievement and change management call for paying close attention to the feedback from our environment (including of course the people in it) so that we can adjust our behavior to get the response we wish from those around us.
As Grant Wiggins so rightly puts it “Feedback is not praise or evaluation. Feedback is how we are doing in our efforts to reach a Goal.”
Remember defensiveness is a major blockage to accurate and comprehensive self-knowledge. Defensive people overrate themselves in the eyes of others. If you are seen as denying your faults, you may get jumped on when people finally get the chance to give you feedback. Their evaluations of you may be lower than justified because they think the message has to be louder to get through your defensive shields. To break the cycle, follow the rules of good listening without responding, then write down criticisms and reflect on which ones might have some element of truth in them. Choose one area in which to focus your development. People will be pleased that you are responding, and the amount of negative feedback should decrease. Seek feedback regarding instances when you may have reacted without considering others’ feelings. Apologise to people when you have hurt or ignored them. This happens with the best of us. Instead, concentrate on developing effective working relationships. Focus on self-awareness and what you need to do to make the relationship work. Communicate openly about what you need, and ask others what they need to make the relationship successful.
We should try and present feedback in a balanced form, the overall focus needs to be on the future. Remember no one can change the past – its value in a feedback situation is for context, consequences and concrete examples, not for dwelling, hand-wringing or excessive blame, as we so commonly do.
• lets you know of areas where you may be able to improve
• can identify any problems or distracting behavior
• gives you an idea of how you stand from the audiences’ perspective, which is usually a lot better than you give yourself credit for
For feedback to be useful, it needs to be
• Specific
• Immediate
• Honest
• Actionable
When we learn to view feedback in a positive way, we are that much closer to being that type of leader we’ve always imagined we would be. It is said that feedback is the food of champions and that it is the way we learn and grow. It’s important to know how others perceive us and for us to learn how to respond positively to suggestions for change. Effective leaders are open to feedback, both positive and negative, and will use it to improve their performance. They monitor relationships with colleagues and deal straightforwardly with issues as they arise.
Leader who aren’t open to feedback are many times perceived as defensive, arrogant, or fearful of looking at their shortcomings. This is because shutting out observations and perceptions of others limits your growth and development. Chances are pretty good that, over time, you have developed blind spots as a leader. Acknowledge the fact that you disagree and see the situation differently. Do not try to persuade the other person that you’re right and he’s wrong.
Leadership development and failure go hand in hand. By its very nature, development involves trying new things, often in the form of ‘stretch assignments’ in order to challenge yourself and learn new skills. It is inevitable that in the process of learning, we are bound to fall down and skin our knee. One of the traits of all successful people is resiliency – the ability to fail, learn from that failure, and incorporate new skills into your leadership repertoire.
Feedback is needed for effective and efficient goal attainment. It should remain important to us and be something that we would want to seek out on a regular basis, even though to the contrary, feedback in our minds seems to have a particularly bad reputation. At Toastmasters we make it a point to keep practicing giving and receiving feedback to increase our resiliency to help us rise again after failing, keeping in mind what Confucius said that “Our greatest glory is not, in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”
(Writer is a an entrepreneur and is a counsellor and a psychotherapist. He is also a member of Toastmasters International.)

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