When Feedback is Hard to Hear:  Part 3

When Feedback is Hard to Hear: Part 3

As leaders who are committed to growing, we should crave feedback.  The problem is, most of us shy away from it.
When we are surprised by feedback that points to our weaknesses, we tend to take things personally. We get defensive. We rationalize the critique away.  When we do this, we may be missing out.

If we are courageous enough to respond differently, then honest feedback can become our greatest teacher and source of professional growth.

Being reminded that the best leaders bravely seek feedback, I ‘doubled down’ at my school.  In addition to leaning into the recent feedback conversation I had with a staff member, I decided to push further. This week I asked my instructional leadership team, “How could I lead better?”  What I learned was invaluable.

1. The feedback wasn’t as bad as I feared. While there were moments that I had to bite my lip to keep myself from responding, affirmation came as well.
2. The feedback gave me actionable items for follow up.  Getting actionable items provides me an opportunity to show that I am listening.

My real-time learning has been accelerated by some of the best leadership thinkers in the industry. Dr. Goldsmith has been called one of the world’s most influential leadership thinkers (2011, 2015). His experience coaching executives, particularly in the field of business, carries into the educational leadership context.

Advice from Dr. Marshall Goldsmith- “4 Ways to Win Now” Entre Leadership Podcast  &  What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

marshall-goldsmith                WhatGotYouHere-by-MarshallGoldsmith

1. Developing a skill for receiving feedback can take you from near great to great. Leaders like you have “been successful because you do a lot things right, and in spite of doing some things that are stupid.” We all have blindspots.
2. There are 100 bad ways to ask for feedback and 1 good way. When asking for feedback directly, the only question that works is some version of, “How can I do better?”
3. Stop asking for feedback and then expressing your opinion. The first thing we want to do when we ask for input is the last thing we should do: give our opinion.
4. Don’t judge the ideas people give you.  Just listen and say thank you. If you react positively to ideas you immediately like and negatively to ideas that you don’t like, then your colleagues will shape their behavior. Eventually people will feed you exactly what they think you want to hear.
5. Never promise to do everything people say. Leadership is not a popularity contest. “Look, thank you for your ideas. I can’t promise to do everything. I am going to listen and do what I can. I can’t change the past, but I can change the future. I’m going to work hard, involve you, and do the best I can.”
6. Prior to asking people for input, let them know where you are on the decision curve:  A) Is it a done deal? B) Is it nearly decided, but you want to know what could go possibly wrong? C) Do you have a few viable options and want to know which is the most feasible? D) Are you truly open for new and creative solutions? Being clear about this can change the game for you.
7. Tweetable: “Interpersonal behavior is the difference-maker between being great and near great.”

Image by Tihn Te Photos via Flickr
When Feedback is Hard to Hear: Part 2

When Feedback is Hard to Hear: Part 2

It’s never a good time to hear hard things about your leadership.
It can take you by surprise.
It can sting too, like an unexpected tetanus shot at a routine medical checkup.

The feedback I recently received from a collegue stung a great deal.
“I don’t feel like you trust me.”
“I don’t think you really want to hear what we think.”

Hearing these critiques, my instinct was to defend myself.
“That can’t be true.”
“Of course I trust you.”
“This person is stuck somehow.”

But I didn’t say those things.
I took a deep breath.
I looked confused.
I stood perplexed.
Perhaps uncharacteristically, I responded, “Tell me more. I want to understand.”

Then I listened.
As it turns out, this was the best move I could’ve possibly made. If nothing else, my questioning put me in a position to learn. I have lots to learn about myself, about leadership, and about getting the most out of others.

With a little more time, and the motivation to become a more effective leader, I turned to the advice of others. I found quality resources on the topic and devoured them. Allow me to share some highlights from this insightful and timely text:

 Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen


1. If we are serious about our own development and growth, we can’t wait around for perfectly delivered feedback. In fact, the majority of our learning is going to have to come from, “…people who are doing their best but may not know better, who are too busy to give us the time we need, who are difficult themselves, or who are just plain lousy at giving feedback or coaching” (18).

2. Receiving feedback well doesn’t mean we always have to take the feedback.  Instead, it means engaging fully in the conversation, navigating it skillfully, and being thoughtful about whether and how to use the feedback for our growth (20).

3. When feedback is difficult, give yourself a second score for how you handle the first score. It’s easy to get discouraged when we hear about our own shortcomings. Giving ourselves a “score” for how we handle the critique, helps us stay focused on the present.  “While the initial evaluation may not be fully within your control, your reaction to it usually is” (181).

4. Separate the different strands of feedback. What do you feel?  What is the story you are telling yourself?  What is the actual feedback?  Those three things are different.  It’s important to tease them out.

5. Nothing affects the learning culture of an organization more than the skill with which its executive team receives feedback.  “If you seek out coaching, your direct reports will seek out coaching. If you take responsibility for your mistakes, your peers will be encouraged to fess up as well; if you try out a suggestion from a coworker, they will be more open to trying out your suggestions” (21).

6. Tweetable: “Is it possible that feedback is like a gift and like a colonoscopy?

I still have more to learn on this topic.  Stay tuned for part 3…

When Feedback is Hard to Hear: Part 1

When Feedback is Hard to Hear: Part 1

Yesterday I was meeting with one of my staff members. I was checking in on the progress of some of our goals when the conversation took a turn.

“I don’t think you trust me.”

My heart began to pound. The wheels started spinning. What was she even talking about? Courageously, and with some hesitation, the staff member expounded.

“Don’t get me wrong, you are the best leader I have worked with. I want you to hear that…”

She continued, “But I wonder sometimes if you really care what we think.”

Now, removed from the conversation by 23 hours, I sit stinging from the feedback but looking to grow from it, even if that means admitting my shortcomings and changing some behaviors. In the end, I want to lead well, to build trust, and positively impact children through other people.

As leaders who are committed to growing, we should crave feedback. The problem is, most of us shy away from it.
When feedback is negative, we tend to take things personally. We get defensive. We rationalize the critique away. When we do this, we may be missing out. If we are courageous and enough to respond differently, then honest feedback can become our greatest teacher and source of professional growth.

I am currently learning from Craig Groeschel on the topic of feedback:

Craig Groeschel: leadership podcast Giving and Receiving Feedback:

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 8.28.11 PM

1. Work to develop a culture of honest, timely and helpful feedback. We are the leaders of the organization. It should start with us.
2. A growth mindset helps us handle feedback that is difficult to hear. The feedback is simply giving us direction, for our next steps as leaders.
3. Remember to separate the “do” from the “who.” The best feedback is about what we do, not who we are.
4. When you find yourself getting most defensive, that’s when you need to listen most. This could be an opportunity for growth. “The more I want to push back; the more I need to listen.”
5. Ask clarifying questions to get a better understanding. Remember that general questions rarely lead to specific feedback. Specific questions like, “How can I do better next time?” are far more helpful.
6. Tweetable: “Don’t dread feedback, crave it.”

Stay tuned to hear my inner dialogue (and how I responded) after getting feedback that was hard to hear!


Image by Tihn Te Photos via Flickr
Literature Reviewed For Leaders: “Extreme Ownership”

Literature Reviewed For Leaders: “Extreme Ownership”

The 411: Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2015.

My Tweet: My top leadership read in 2017! #extremeownership @jockowillink @LeifBabin

A Leader’s Take:  This book will have your heart pumping, taking you on counter insurgency missions on the streets of Ramadi, Iraq. Then it will have your brain firing, as you make connections between leadership principles and needed moves at your own school site. You will have a hard time putting the book down. And this will happen twelve times as you work through the individual chapters of this sure-to-be leadership classic.

One Take-Away:  Willink and Babin assert: the leadership principles that lead to success on the battlefield, also yield results in the business (or education) field(s). One overarching concept is that leaders who take ownership (“extreme ownership”) of an entire operation, including the setting expectations, reinforcing standards, acknowledging shortcomings, gain the trust of their teams and drive high performance. In their words, “Whether in SEAL training, in combat on distant battlefields, in business, or in life: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”  In education, and as leaders, we can get caught blaming district limitations, ineffective employees, or dysfunctional teams. This text reminded me that it is my responsibility to take ownership for our school’s performance, across the board. While there are forces outside of our locus of control, it is my responsibility to provide an honest assessment of where we are, get the staff to believe that improvement is possible, and push towards that mission.

Your Next Move: Get this book to your nightstand ASAP.

It Gets: 5 out of 5 apples!