The #1 Thing Leaders Suck At
I felt like a kid in a candy story when, after the first ring, Jim Kouzes, co-author of The Leadership Challenge, picked up the phone and said, “It’s Jim.”
Four years ago, by chance, I picked up the fourth edition of his book. I read it during one of life’s tipping points. It changed my leadership.
The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership explained in the book gave me a lens into greater effectiveness. I memorized:
- Model the Way
- Inspire Shared Vision
- Challenge the Process
- Enable Others to Act
- Encourage the Heart
I asked Jim to explain the most challenging concepts in leadership. He reminded me that nearly two million people had taken their 360-degree feedback tool. The statement that consistently receives the lowest rating is, “Asks for feedback on how his/her actions affect other people’s performance.” (pg. 85)
“Leaders are reluctant to want to know
how we impact others.” Jim Kouzes
This thought woke me up about 3:00 a.m. this morning:
Authenticity leaves a thin line between
who I am and what I do.
Authentic leaders act authentically. The problem with negative feedback is it’s about us, it’s personal.
Dealing with negative feedback:
First, feedback must be so regular it’s expected and normal.
Second, the frequency of positive feedback must outweigh negative. Positive environments are established and maintained with positive talk. Work at being affirming and encouraging.
Third, make the authentic you a person who pursues excellence. It’s impossible to achieve excellence without feedback. Choosing to pursue excellence opens the door for leaders to frequently ask, “How am I doing?”
Bonus benefit: Constant feedback may prevent the bubble of negative feedback that builds up and festers in organizations. Many small doses may be easier and healthier that one large dose.
What other suggestions would help leaders more frequently ask, “How am I doing?”
Leadership Freak Alert: I’m heading to the Global Leadership Summit and it’s likely you’ll receive at least one more Freak-post today. If you’re at the Lancaster, PA site, look me up.
I think one of the most important issues is that leaders, like everyone else, need to show some demonstrable change in their behavior. If you never seem to alter your behavior based on feedback, the either you are not listening or you do not care.
Thank you Martina.
It’s the brutal truth. We need to listen and where apropriate adjust. Too practical…
I agree that asking for feedback opens door for learning. The idea of asking feedback itself is so encouraging. Even the more encouraging is the willingness to accept feedback. Generally people do not believe what they do not like. So, leaders put themselves in the shoes of others while asking for feedback. And that is called leadership act. This eventually leads to authenticity. I think acceptance needs a great courage. And to create courage, leaders need to overcome ego and arrogance. As long as,we posses them, it is difficult to create courage. So, leaders should realize that they are human beings with great values. And values are maturity, wisdom, concern, sacrifice and inculcate.
Thank you Ajay.
Another insightful contribution. “leaders don’t believe what they don’t like.” thats gold!
I love the titles of your posts. They always just kind of cut through the cow chips and make me wonder what the heck is on your mind today.
I once had a boss who constantly sent out surveys. Yeah, we even had to do 360 evaluations on him. Then he would stand in front of the group and ridicule some of the responses to the surveys publicly. I’m not making this up. My suggestion? If you are going to require people to respond to surveys to help you improve, don’t publicly ridicule the responses.
He made me become very cynical about evaluations. Any tool is only as useful as the character and intentions of the subject.
Thank you Dauna.
If your story wasn’t so tragic it would be hilarious. Point taken!
Thanks Dauna, your post focused where I wandered with Dan’s 300. It would be revealing to have a focused drill down and find out what drives leadership reluctance/aversion to feedback. First impulse thought would be insecurity, yet there have to be many dynamics at work…”I am top dog, so obviously I know best and need little (read ‘no’) feedback.” Maybe, “I got to this point without feedback, why would I need it now?” “Leaders don’t show weakness.” Or in Dauna’s twisted case, to regularly ask for feedback and then to pillory it…wow! Am reminded of the SNL bees…”feedback, I don’t need no stinkin’ feedback.”
Hey Doc, Great question…The Leadership Challenge has some stuff on this..perhaps another post.
Perhaps if you’re just getting started in receiving feedback, try requesting it in a safe one-on-one environment. I’ve watched too many insecure leaders try to request public feedback and get defensive. It really makes everyone uncomfortable and quiet the next time.
Thank you Harrison.
Find safe environments makes lots of sense.
I agree with Harrison, expect more negative feedback at first. Then if it is not getting more positive with time…has anything changed? Do you work with a bunch of Negative Nellies? Do you encourage a negative enviroment at work? Have you completely missed the cause and are just treating the symptomes?
Thank you Vudragovich.
In most situations negativity is accidental…positive environments are intentional.
It took years for me to not be so sensitive about constructive criticism. I knew it was the right thing to do but it’s a little like stepping out naked. Thanks for the reminder.
Thank you Red.
My wife and I both laughed at your pointed “naked” illustration. It’s true.
Ah yes, it is so much easier to accept the positive feedback. Constructive, negative feedback hurts. It can be a struggle to turn the defense mechanisms off and just listen, especially when the feedback is delivered in a less than effective manner. Once we develop the ability to focus on the positive outcomes possible through change, it becomes easier. I’m still working on perfecting that!
Thank you Laurie.
You are right, if we are going to get good at accepting negative feedback we’re going to get good at receiving it from people who aren’t too good at giving it.
I love the comments section of your posts. You do an awesome job of getting us thinking!
It is difficult to ask for feedback. We know that there will be some painful moments that come from it. The truth is, if we have assembled a good team around us, and have promoted an environment of open communication, we have nothing to fear. As leaders, if we expect others to adjust with feedback, then we must be the first to do so.
Thank you Dr. Hollingshead.
I love the contributions Leadership Freak readers leave. The great Bob Sutton said the conversation here was the best he’d seen on the Internet. Perhaps he was being nice but there’s some truth to it. LF readers/contributors are great.
Not only is it difficult to ask for feedback…when a supervisor asks it can be difficult to give it. It takes courage to say what is seen, especially when it is negative.
I love the idea of constant regular feedback.
I remember watching a video documentary on the Blue Angels’ elite pilots. After every single flight, they would debrief each other, and not only take feedback from each other, but APOLOGIZE to their teammates for even the slightest miscue that others might not even know had occurred (e.g., “On turn 3 of such and such, I forgot to look at my altimeter. I apologize”).
Such regular, humble interaction can influence and benefit not only the leader, but a whole culture.
BTW, I think that some care is indicated when evaluating feedback, especially when companies are just starting out in their efforts at “cultural enhancement” in this area.
For example leaders do well to look hard at feedback that requires appeasement, or seeks to manipulate through compliance-for-approval, or is traceable to personal agenda—taking what grains of value are there, if any, and discarding the rest.
Thank you Mark.
Love the illustration. I respect the wisdom you share and hope everyone reads it.
The Blue Angel debrief is the high bar model in continuous improvement, great example Mark. There is no rank, there is appreciation, there is ownership, and it is review of potentially life/death work. While many of us may not regularly deal with life/death issues, the debrief model is definitely transferable.
Thanks for highlighting the “there is no rank”
Feedback requires a safe place for both the person providing it and the person receiving it.
Accepting feedback with grace is difficult to do, but is a useful skill to learn. It creates the time and space you need to digest what you’ve heard, to place it in context, to question yourself carefully, and to take the appropriate action.
To paraphrase Benjamin Zander (and his wife Rosamund, who I believe originally said this), “To tell someone the truth you must first give them an A”
I find that when our communications comes from a place of acknowledgement and appreciation for the whole person, there is a remarkable shift in both the person giving the feedback, and the one receiving it. There is a movement toward realness.
Dan – great post as always! Effective feedback changes behaviour. By the way the magic ratio of positvie to negative is 3:1. Good leaders give feedback – great leaders also take it!
Thank you Turbo.
Makes sense…evaluate feedback by how behavior changes!
I’ve read different ratios. 3:1/4:1 I read research that it takes 6 positives to balance 1 negative. In any case, it’s our responsibility to build positive environments – regardless of the ration.
I thought your post was going to be about grammar (never end a sentence with a preposition) but I quickly realized otherwise. I am a firm believer in 360 feedback. It’s simple cause an effect. The actions of one causes a reaction in another. When giving feedback to an employee the leader needs to hear it in return as the two are so closely related. Can’t stress that enough and it’s not done enough which is sad. Thank you for the post.
Thank you Suge.
Grammar isn’t always my strong suit. 🙂
Thanks for pointing out the power of give and take when it comes to feedback… very true.
Dan – I love this discussion, thanks for getting it started. I had an awesome boss who would meet one on one with his people pretty regularly (about every other month) and during those time he would ask what else he could do to help me do better. He would listen and if realistic he would make changes.
It taught me that when asking for feedback making it about helping the other person succeed they are more willing to be honest and open and it really is easier to swallow as the leader. You still hear some hard things occassionally, however remember it’s about you helping them keeps it in perspective. At times negative feedback is their baggage not yours.
Thank you Carol.
I appreciate your emphasis on “helping the other person succeed…”
Always act with the best interest of others in mind, always! It solves and guides most of the tough leadership activities.
Great post Dan, I think constant feed back that is truthful is so helpful. We need the flow of information coming in so we can stay on target.
Thank you Tina.
Feedback helps us stay on target! Bingo
Hey Dan, my pastor, Craig Groeschel is speaking today at the Global Leadership Summit. I pray that you are blown away! I love your blog. Keep up the good work.
Thank you Corey.
I look forward to hearing Craig. Thanks for the good word!
Yes, I think you got this one right. Who really likes negative feedback? I mean, I love the idea of getting it. I want it. But receiving it and then adjusting where necessary is certainly tough. It’s tough for me and for every leader I’ve worked for. We can call ourselves ugly, but it feels worse when someone else says it. Thanks, Dan!
Thank you David.
I suppose the challenge is we don’t always see the area that needs improvement because of blind spots… The trouble with someone pointing out blind spots is they see them but we don’t!
Yeah, sometimes it’s the surprise that makes it hard. It’s the disconnect between reality and our expectations!
Given some of the excellent observations here, makes the case for leaders ensuring/developing a feedback/feedforward process and cadre that are direct, honest, consistent, and regular–for their organization and themselves. Again, this overtly shows that the leadership is placing a high value on continuous improvement, individually and as an organization. And have to certainly toss in Marshall Goldsmith props for the feedforward concepts.
Thank you Doc.
You remind me that I’ve fallen into the trap of occasional, sporadic feedback gets the job done. thanks for a practical kick in the pants to not only get the ball rolling but keeping it rolling.
One important lesson I discovered during a 360 a few years ago seems so obvious… but wasn’t to me until I uncovered it. I found myself answering many of the questions from the perspective of my intentions (ie what I intented to do) whereas those around me responded to the questions based on what they actually experienced from me…. sometimes there was a significant gap! Here is where I needed to realize that sometimes my good intentions are not executed well, or at all. This was an important reminder to me to ensure I consistently walked my talk.
Thank you Bob.
Too true to be comfortable!! Great insight.
Working with leaders I have discovered that negatieve feedback a big problem is but the biggest challenge my clieants deal is with they think the have to do it all alone – The top is a lonely place.
Leaders are stronger when they work side-by-side with others. Now-a-days we do not know (cannot) know everything. Depending on others and knowing how to ask and share is a skill leaders need to embrace.
Thanks for the great post Dan. I use something I call the “Monday Report” to get feedback from my team. I blogged about it here.
Looking forward to your feedback. Leo
We would find more courage to ask, “How am I doing?” by recalling Doug Reeves’ advice to not mistake VOLUME for volume. In his book, “Leading Change in Your School” he warns that in every change initiative, you can statistically count on a toxic 2% who will vehemently oppose the change. The mistake leaders make is to project the vocal outrage of the few onto the quieter many. Before we ask for feedback, let’s remind ourselves that opposition is a given. Let’s receive criticism with open minds, and learn from it, but interpret it in light of the whole.
Dan, any suggestions on how to go about getting constant guenuine feedback? It would seem a leader would need to work up to that point. I’ve initiated 360 feedback in the past but that is as far as it has gone.
Dear Dan, some Asian culture where hierarchy is very strong, no matter what you do people do not give feedback specifically negative one, directly.
Good news is that they talk about their issues with leader’s behavoir with others in organisation to whom they trust.
It is good to identify such trusted people in organisation and develop understanding to receive such feedback via them.
This may not be 100% correct arrangement but you can have smell of things which can give u some insight to work up on
I think the number one thing many leaders suck at is leadership! One can be \”appointed\” as a leader, but those one leads decide if one is a leader. Hiding behind positional authority alone won\’t work. A leaders greatest capital is their credibility. The inability of many to make sure what their mouth says is backed up by what their butt does is a huge failing, Couple with with the usual dose of arrogance and ignorance that doesn\’t let them see that obvious, hey, you\’ve failed as a leader.