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 candid and consistent feedback. 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?

When to Pay Attention

Here are five signs 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?

It’s important not to pay too much attention to unhelpful noise disguised as feedback. It’s just as important to seek out and receive helpful feedback.

Self-reflection

  1. Is your tendency to pay too much or too little attention to feedback?
  2. What helps you discern the difference between feedback and noise?
  3. Who can tell you no?
  4. When is the last time you changed in part due to feedback?
  5. When is the last time you helped someone else grow through feedback?

Rory Tyer is an executive coach, expert facilitator, writer, and videographer who thrives on asking powerful questions. He is the creator and host of Work Like a Human, the GoInnovation podcast, and has worked with or coached leaders in several countries from organizations such as Toyota, Amazon, Chick-fil-a, World Vision International, Coca-Cola, and St Jude Children’s Hospital. He currently lives in Tupelo, MS, with his wife, two daughters, and two pit bulls. Find him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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