Feedback is a Funny Thing

On this edition of Lessons in Leadership, Steve Adubato and Mary Gamba talk with Randy Stodard, Chief Marketing Officer, Delta Dental of New Jersey about engaging with your team, even when they are remote. Then, Steve is joined by Principal Baruti Kafele, Education Speaker and Consultant, Principal Kafele Consulting, LLC about the Virtual Assistant Principal Leadership Academy.


I have been thinking a lot about why receiving and giving feedback is so challenging for so many leaders. Feedback is complex, but it is essential to developing ourselves as leaders and as individuals, as well as helping to develop those around us. There are so many ways we can improve as leaders, whether it is being more concise, better managing our time, having more confidence when communicating in public, being more open to others’ points of view or the need to be a better listener. Consider the following when it comes to this funny thing called feedback:

Mini-360 feedback exercise. If you want to know how people perceive you, try this exercise.  Ask several colleagues two key questions. First, “What are my two greatest leadership strengths?” It is great to have this positive feedback that tells you how good you are in certain areas. But this exercise becomes more challenging when you get to the second question, which is to ask those around you to identify two, possibly three “opportunities to improve as a leader” and provide specific examples for each.

Be prepared to receive the feedback. Every leader who wants to be his or her best proactively seeks and needs candid and constructive feedback. Yet, no matter how evolved we think we are as leaders or how high our emotional intelligence quotient is, real feedback that talks about your “opportunities to improve” is not natural or easy for most of us to hear as well as to offer such feedback to colleagues.

Don’t get defensive. When receiving feedback, our instincts kick in and we tend to disagree, deflect, and defend and we explain that the feedback giver “just doesn’t understand.” You can’t argue with the feedback of someone you trust and respect because that is how they view you and your actions. Instead of shutting down or arguing with the person giving you such valuable feedback, remain open-minded to the possibility that as good as you are, there are places where you can improve.

Make a commitment to improve. If someone reports that you are quick to blame and point fingers when things go wrong, see this as an opportunity to change your approach. The more you adjust your mindset, you will retrain your leadership “muscle memory” to dealing with mistakes and then quickly exploring potential solutions.

Don’t ignore the feedback. When you ignore feedback, it sends the message that you don’t care that much about the valuable gift you have been given, and that the perspective of the person giving the feedback isn’t of any great value. It has the potential to hurt your relationship with that person and you miss an opportunity to improve.

Insist on constructive feedback. If someone says that they simply can’t identify any “opportunities for you to improve,” push harder, because no one is perfect. If the person still won’t give you constructive feedback, identify someone else you trust to complete the mini-360 feedback exercise. The resistance for giving constructive feedback is often just as confounding and problematic as the resistance and defensiveness to hear and receive it. That’s why feedback is such a funny thing.

So, here is the deal. The next time you either ask for constructive feedback from someone you respect and care about or someone offers it without you even asking, choose to be open. Choose to not be defensive. Choose to do something about it. You not only have nothing to lose, but you have everything to gain. Remember that no one is perfect, nor is that the goal. But rather our goal is constant improvement and the only way that happens is by seeing feedback as the gift that it is and openly accepting and embracing it.

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