Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

Over the last several decades, we’ve observed and worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of leaders. When it comes to feedback, we’ve come up with a taxonomy—an organizing principle—that seems to apply across leaders and across settings. And it involves feedback.

Leaders seem to embrace feedback along one of three distinct lines. The first, and the worst, is the defensive orientation. A leader with this orientation never solicits feedback directly. And when he/she does get unsolicited feedback, they become defensive, angry, and blaming. They hunker down, and they don’t get better. Predictably, they get worse. The next step on the evolutionary feedback hierarchy is those that hold, what we call, a passive but welcoming feedback orientation. Leaders with this orientation, never ask for feedback. They are never proactive about pulling in ways to get better. But when they do get constructive, yet unsolicited, feedback, they tend to embrace it; and they get better from it. By far, the most advanced orientation, and the one that holds the most appeal, is what we call Feedback Seekers. These types of leaders play offense. They are always on the move, asking intrusive questions about their performance and behaviors. To these hard chargers, every piece of feedback is a unique opportunity to learn and to improve. Of course, this demands huge stores of humility along with, ironically, confidence. Confidence is required to put yourself out there with the chance that you may not like what you see or hear.

So, here’s our Leadership-In-Action assignment for you. Sometime this week, approach two personnel that you lead, and ask them for two things that you could do differently or better to be even more effective. They may be shocked—especially if you've never done this before. Or, worse, they may not feel safe giving you the feedback. We encourage you to press while ensuring their safety. So, don’t let them off the hook. They can email it to you, tell you to your face, and you can even give them time to think and reflect. But, just don’t let them get a pass. Just as we, as leaders, need to build the habit of receiving feedback, equally important is developing the skill in our subordinates to deliver feedback.

Here’s some feedback now. Call or email Robin Bichy today, one of the founders and principals at ELP, to better understand how to leverage this pioneering feedback perspective in your organization.