Here’s a leadership paradox. On the one hand, leaders really, really need feedback, and the “higher” your position, the more difficult it is for you to get the candid and consistent feedback you need to make good decisions. On the other hand, every data point isn’t equally important. It’s not possible to pay the same amount of attention to every possible piece of feedback. That would be paralyzing and overwhelming. Leaders must gradually learn to make quick decisions about what’s helpful or important vs. what can be acknowledged but passed on.
No leader can genuinely listen to every possible piece of feedback. Nor should you. If you pivot every time someone says something specific and critical, you’ll be exhausted, and you won’t be exercising the unique responsibilities of your role. One of those unique responsibilities is actually deciding which feedback makes it through your filter. This means it’s very important that leaders get those filtering mechanisms right. How do you quickly decide what feedback is worth pausing and spending some time on? How do you know when to say “thank you” and leave it at that, versus investing time and energy in having a follow-up conversation to tease out something that might be really important?
In short, how does a leader decide when she needs the feedback she’s hearing?
Here are five signs, based on experience, that you need that feedback:
1. Has it been a long time since someone significantly disagreed with a decision or position of yours? If so, you might be accidentally surrounding myself with people who are just like you. If the feedback feels suddenly jarring or unexpected, that just might be something revealing a blind spot.
2. Does the feedback come from someone you have every reason to trust? Give it more consideration.
3. Does the feedback reinforce a pattern? If so, something may be trying to get your attention.
4. Is it something that generates an intense personal / emotional reaction? It may be that there’s a hard truth you don’t want to hear. Press into it and see what you can find.
5. Does the feedback concern something that you’ve put on autopilot? What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. If you haven’t spent time lately in intentional reflection on this specific area, you might be getting comfortable or complacent. Could it be due for a strategic refresh so that you’re anticipating what’s next rather than simply cruising on what is?
Leaders rarely spend too much time listening to feedback. It is far more common for leaders to pivot too slowly, respond too defensively, or spend too little time genuinely seeking out and listening to feedback.
However, when you do make space to hear feedback, we hope these five signs can help you filter the feedback you need from the noise you don’t.