If Feedback is The Breakfast of Champions Why is it So Hard to Swallow!

I frequently deliver programmes that include the subject of giving and receiving feedback. The effective receiving of feedback is the more challenging for most of us. But it’s vital, in order to learn and grow as leaders and people. All learning requires:

  • Awareness (of ourselves, our strengths and shortcomings)
  • Acceptance (of others perceptions of us and areas where change and development may be needed)
  • Action (because awareness without action is pointless)

Feedback is fundamental to this process, so why, if it’s so essential, is it so hard to stomach?

One of the reasons is that when we lift our heads above the parapet in some way, take a stand, and risk being vulnerable it can be really hard to continue when we feel shot down in flames. Depending on our level of self- awareness and self- esteem it can be brushed off, taken as a learning opportunity or be allowed to cut us to the quick.

At that point it can be really tempting just keep our heads down and stay out of the firing line

Aristotle said “Criticism is something you can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” Of course, that isn’t an option for anyone who wants to lead.

I recently became aware that although I’ve run a successful Leadership Development company for the last 10 years and believed I’d taken many risks including financial risks, I’ve not made myself personally vulnerable to the extent I need to in order to take my business to the next level. So this year I committed to “jumping off the cliff and building my wings on the way down” in relation to raising my personal profile and getting out of my comfort zone.

My first project didn’t turn out the way I wanted at all.  I received some indirect criticism/feedback and my immediate response was to feel hurt and upset that my integrity (a core value of mine) was apparently being called into question. Not only that, but it was being called into question by a couple of people who, I didn’t know personally, but who I had long admired and respected.

I also felt frustrated that I couldn’t get direct and specific feedback which I could use to learn, grow and develop. I felt tempted to retreat back into my comfort zone. After all, I had trundled along very nicely thank you for the last 10 years. But no! That wasn’t the intention I set for myself and I couldn’t respect myself a leader if I allowed this to defeat me at the first hurdle. So this is what I did:

1. Acknowledged my feelings of hurt and injustice and put them aside.

2. Visualised holding the feedback in my hand, at arms length, and examining it with an attitude of curiosity, to see if there was anything in there that I could use constructively.

3. Decided how much credibility and respect I felt for the people involved. If I didn’t value their opinion I would have visualised tossing the feedback aside. In this case their professional credibility was high though it would have been higher if they’d modelled good leadership by giving the feedback directly and specifically to me rather than having to hear it from others.

4. Picked out the learning I could find and made some changes.

5. Visualised putting the rest aside.

I hope by sharing my vulnerability and learning with you it will help you use criticism and feedback as a learning opportunity rather than allowing it to knock you off course.

I’d really value your thoughts, comments and feedback!

4 Responses to If Feedback is The Breakfast of Champions Why is it So Hard to Swallow!

  • Thanks for sharing your personal “stretch” and the results. Sometimes it seems like great leaders are immune to criticism, but I think you are modeling the truth about growth as a leader. Sometimes it hurts, but taking a step back (as you did), considering what can be learned from the criticism, incorporating the learning, and moving forward again is how we grow.

    • Thanks for your response. I’m glad I managed to demonstrate that although we know logically what we need to do to find the learning, it can still provoke strong emotions and that’s okay. It’s only when we allow the emotion to overwhelm us and keep us from taking that step back that it inhibits our growth.

  • Interesting. Thank you for sharing. Many years ago I was attending an event which explored receiving feedback. The approach was very similar to yours, but ever since then I’ve held onto the four-word summary: “Look for the truth.” – If you look hard enough you’ll find something to learn. 🙂

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