Great Leaders Ignore Feedback!

So now that I’ve got your attention, I should say I didn’t literally mean ALL feedback.  I co-facilitated a workshop recently with a group of 18 emerging leaders in technology functions.  In that workshop, participants receive feedback from a 360-survey that is designed for and indicative of what is takes to be successful in a senior technology leadership position.  We structure this workshop so that the feedback is provided on Day 1, that way participants can understand how others perceive them back on-the-job, and they can use the remainder of the workshop days to better understand the feedback and create actions plans for future development, all aimed at moving to the next-level of responsibility in their respective companies.

I’d be remiss in not mentioning my favorite quote from humorist Franklin Jones who said, “Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.  What a great quote.  As a former Human Resources professional, I can reveal that I often told leaders and employees that they should consider feedback a gift, something to be treasured.  Another meaningless platitude.  Even though I said that, I certainly didn’t believe it.  Who likes to receive feedback?  It’s hard and that is the first important learning for an emerging technology leader. 

But, I think the most difficult thing for emerging technology leaders to understand, in my experience conducting this workshop, is that some of the feedback should be IGNORED.  Picture a continuum where on the left side is a leader who ignores all feedback received and on the right side, a leader who attempts to deal with and fix all feedback received.  For emerging technology leaders, I often find many want to address too much feedback.  Think about it, they were designated as “Emerging” or “High-Potential” because of Stellar performance at the team level, being given a project and using his or her team to deliver on it while exceeding expectations.  Naturally, they believe the way to the next-level of leadership is to address all the feedback.

The counter-intuitive approach is to ignore some, maybe a lot of the feedback.  Here are three important reasons why:

  1. Ungrounded Feedback.  A good portion of the feedback received in 360 instruments is not grounded.  What I mean by that is the feedback giver provides an opinion or a general statement of improvement that is not based on enough exposure to the aspiring leader.  As we say, when the individual giving the feedback goes to ‘assessment’ (opinion) without proper ‘assertion’ (fact) too quickly, the feedback is not grounded.
  2. Next-Level Means Different Skills.  Feedback that is relevant to the next-level of responsibility is more important than that associated with the current job.  This is what will be discussed by those interviewing you for the next-level job.   If the current job delivering a software system requires you to excel at managing project plans, that is great but the next-level job requires strategic agility, the latter is more important for you to address.
  3. Powerful Advocates.  Finally, feedback that comes from those who have the power to be your advocate for the next-level position is much more important to address.  Of course it is important for you to create a high-performing, engaged team with members who sing your praises.  But, your boss, and his or her peers likely have the power to be your advocate for the next-level position.  Make sure you address their feedback.

Lominger Ltd.©, the creator of the Leadership Architect Suite indicates that Personal Learning is one of the most important competencies for senior leaders.

“Picks up on the need to change personal, interpersonal, and managerial behavior quickly; watches others for their reactions to his/her attempts to influence and perform, and adjusts; seeks feedback; is sensitive to changing personal demands and requirements and changes accordingly.”

This suggests to me a targeted and opportunistic approach to gathering and addressing feedback.  Resist the urge to address all of the feedback you receive.  Likely you can boil the Most Important down to three key themes and the rest is Less Important or just noise. 


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