How to Respond to Feedback When it’s Really, Really Tough (or Unexpected)

by | Jul 10, 2023 | Blind Spots, Featured, Feedback, Insights

I was seated in a small conference room with my leadership team and a phenomenal coach who had just facilitated my firm’s annual meeting.

We had finished the meeting debrief – you know, what worked well, what didn’t and things we should consider doing differently next year.

That’s when my normally warm and supportive colleagues decided to share a critical blind spot that they were concerned could limit both our effectiveness as an overall team and our growth.

Evidently, the broader team saw me more as a buddy than a leader.

And while that did make a certain amount of sense, since I hand-picked every member of our team for their unique skills and experiences, I heard through their words: They did not respect my leadership, my vision, and what I was asking of them as much as they needed to.

 

That particular feedback stung big-time…

…likely because it touched a very raw nerve for me.

I grew up in a super entrepreneurial family where leadership was proven every hour of every day, rather than being bestowed as the result of a title.

My very people-pleasing approach to earning that leadership respect was strongly rooted in a warm and collegial approach, where true connection always came first.

And now I was learning from my most trusted colleagues that this could actually be my biggest downfall.

 

I felt raw and suddenly very claustrophobic.

 

I quickly surmised that running out the room to lick my wounds was not an option.

So I sat there quietly for a few moments.

And then I asked them a question: Why exactly do you think I can do this; why do you think I can become the leader the team needs me to be?

 

Their responses were the absolute perfect context I needed to absorb and digest the tough stuff.

 

Here’s some of what they told me:

  • Our team is drawn to you.
  • The way you ask questions encourages free and open dialogue and puts people at ease.
  • You haven’t surrounded yourself with yes-men and that demonstrates confidence.

These attributes they carefully and thoughtfully listed provided me with the handrails I needed to look more closely at the blind spot.

 

I have never forgotten that conversation, which could have gone in so many more awkward directions.

 

I even keep my notes from that day close by, even though it’s been years since I worked with those folks.

As I have turned my focus to coaching leaders, I always strive to point out their unique and meaningful strengths before I shine the light on what might be derailing them.

I do that not to be nice, rather, to provide them with the solid ground we all need to examine our flaws with curiosity and vulnerability.

If you are caught off-guard by super challenging feedback, do what I did:

  • Take a couple of nice deep breaths to steady yourself.
  • And then ask something like: What am I doing when I’m at my absolute best?

 

The tricky thing about mirrors is that they tend to show everything – not just the things we’re looking for.

 

And by the way, I am still quite warm and friendly with those who work with and for me — AND I have become so much more effective in giving direction and feedback since that difficult day 10 years ago!

Tracy Benson

Tracy Benson, Founder and CEO, On the Next Page, provides executive coaching to senior leaders and their teams in Fortune 500 companies across industries, including: healthcare, pharma, energy, technology, consumer goods, manufacturing, hospitality, defense and financial.

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