March 8, 2021

Acting on feedback: A critical leadership skill

Part one of a four-part series

In keeping with this month’s theme of Lifelong Learning Leadership, we are going to focus on tips for how to respond to and act on feedback. Seeking feedback, outlined in this recent blog post, is only a first step. This post launches a four-part series on what to do with feedback when you get it.

Most of us have a complicated relationship with feedback. Many years ago, I went through a coach training process, and as part of our graduation at the end of the training, the organization gave us a gift, a beautiful geode . The stone had been cut and polished on one side and was raw and lumpy on the other. It was presented in a beautiful gift box, and when we all opened our gift, the trainers said, “This is to remind you that feedback is ALWAYS a gift. Sometimes it looks and feels beautiful, like the shiny and polished side of this gemstone. Sometimes it looks (and feels) like getting hit by a rock.”

Now that is a metaphor that I don’t think I will ever forget.

So, what do we actually do when we get feedback? Well, most of us start with taking it in and focusing on the negative as the only thing we see. Experts call this negativity bias. We take the one or two difficult or challenging things we read or hear in our feedback and focus on those, missing all the positive things that typically far outweigh and outnumber the negative comments. In next week’s post on self-reflection, I will share a technique for dealing with this natural reaction.

Once we actually get the feedback and have sat with it for a while, we have a few choices.

We can focus on the areas that are our strengths and turn them into superpowers, taking care not to be overly reliant on these so that we start doing what I call the “one-finger pushup.” (You’ll want to join us in two weeks to learn more about that.)

And we will need to address those areas that are identified as opportunities for growth. I call this process “Minding the Gap.” We all have gaps in our skills and talents. Many of those gaps can be filled, and some will become future areas of strength. When I was in medical school, I was fortunate to be taught by one of the fathers of problem-based learning, Dr. Howard Barrows. Dr. Barrows taught me that my one job as a physician was to be a lifelong learner. A student of how to get better. I’m still hearing his advice in my ears as I write this series, and as I share with you my foundational model for growth in leadership. It will be a thread through this series and future content to come. I call it the L3 Way.

Building a Lifelong Learning Leadership (L3) System

There are five key components to this system, and we’ll return to them repeatedly over the next few weeks. They are:

  • A habit of seeking and receiving feedback about strengths and areas to be developed.
  • Regular self-reflection about all the sources of feedback that you receive.
  • A systematic plan for building on your areas of strength and assuring you are not over-reliant on them.
  • A systematic plan for addressing one or two areas for development at a time, in a regular way.
  • Conferring with one or two trusted advisors who can tell you how you are doing with the plan.

And there you have it – we are off and running with our first-ever four-part series of blog posts. I hope you will continue to join me as we offer you a roadmap for proactively responding to feedback in ways that support you and help you become a Lifelong Learning Leader.

Last updated March 9, 2021

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