Boundless Leadership: Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn

It’s confession time. I would much rather have positive feedback than constructive. I’ve been working on this preference for years now. I *know* that constructive feedback helps me improve, shows me what I cannot see myself, and offers the pathway to elevated performance.

I know this and I teach this.

And goddamit it still bloody well hurts!

Being able to to give and receive feedback is probably the most important leadership conversation we can have. But we can get all bent out of shape about doing just that.

Giving constructive feedback is hard because we fear hurting someone’s feelings. This is such a powerful driver. I even ate pasta this weekend (I am gluten intolerant) because a friend made it for me and I did not want to make her feel bad for the mistake (I’d told her about my dietary needs beforehand). Seriously. I sacrificed my own health because I did not want somebody else to feel bad. This has got to change.

Being on the receiving end of constructive feedback can also seriously damage one’s fragile sense of self.

A participant rated my session a zero out of ten. A ZERO! I felt my face go white. There is such harshness in a score that can go no lower. It felt like a dagger to the kidneys.

It’s all ego stuff of course. The need to be liked. The desire to be approved of. Wanting to be recognised as a good performer. To get the gold star.

It would be easy to justify the score away. They weren’t ready for the content. Their development was not able to process the material in a functional way. Blah blah blah. It’s them, not me. Some of that may be true. What is definitely true is that the workshop did not meet that person’s expectations or needs. There is something in that searing white cold score that can help me improve. Great workshops are when expectations are met and exceeded. If I do everything I can to make sure expectations are clear, and I deliver what I can to the best of my ability at the time, then what else can I do? Someone might still rate me a zero. And I can still learn from that.

Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, would have a field day exposing my fixed mindset: if I’m not good at doing something, then clearly I’m terrible at it. Might as well give up.

A growth mindset, Duckworth contends, is different. If you’re not good, you’re not good yet. Keep practising. Feedback helps you get better.

Well Ms Duckworth, there is nothing in your book that shows us how to switch from the childhood programming of fixed mindset to one of a growth mindset! It’s bloody hard work to let go of painful pathologies.

This is what I feel is required:

Humility. No one is perfect. We are all wanting to do our best. There is always something to learn and improve.

Honesty. Sometimes things I do are not great. Others could have done them better. I could have done better. When I let others down I let myself down too. When I let myself down, well that just sucks.

Intention. To avoid the humiliation of under-performance and not measuring up, I will focus my energy on my intention to serve. To do my best, given what I know. It may or may not match expectations. If I give every experience the same intention to be of service, then the feedback will be (a little more) welcome.

In giving feedback, I will be mindful of the tender feelings others might be hiding below bravado. I will speak through intention, the intention to uplift, to assist, to convey a message of compassion.

In the end, constructive feedback directed my way does not make me a bad person. Even if it was badly delivered with a tinge of nastiness. If I can step away from ego freak outs and step into compassion, especially for myself, then I know I am edging towards a better relationship with feedback. I am edging towards being free of judgment, being truly boundless as a leader.

How do you handle feedback? How do you bounce back? What are your strategies to process it?

p.s. The title is from John C. Maxwell’s book, of the same title, that I have just bought and intend to devour!

***