Let’s face it: just about every organization out there is full of opportunities to improve communication. The only real difference between them is that some realize it, and some don’t. For every organization that has acknowledged the issue and is actively working on it, there are many more that either have a case of “deer in the headlights” or are in full-blown denial.
Can you imagine if you didn’t have access to a mirror? Those who are not so concerned with their appearance might be thinking, “That might not be so bad!” But consider how you might feel if you were a model of some kind and your livelihood depended on making sure your appearance was just so. If you needed to make sure that your hair, clothing, make-up, etc. were just right, all in order to make a living, you wouldn’t ever want to be without some way of knowing how you looked and what adjustments you needed to make, right? That would be unacceptable. Now imagine having that same lack of awareness of how well you were doing and what adjustments you needed to make when it came to developing mastery in a certain field or learning to lead other people. What if you never received any feedback on your effectiveness, your performance, strengths, or areas of opportunity you needed to address? For a leader, that situation would be no less acceptable, and yet it is a reality for many of us.
One of the distinct memories I have of the early days of my career is how much I hated to get feedback. The mere mention of the word sent chills down my spine and made me tense up. I knew I had to brace myself for a message I probably didn’t want to hear, even though it was likely going to be sandwiched between two pieces of praise and worded with tact and all of those old tricks to make negative feedback more palatable for the poor soul that is about to get blindsided by it.
I admit, my anxiety and my inability to take feedback well was primarily due to my defensiveness and my insecurities. There is no denying that, but I can think of a few things that, if done differently, would have made a huge difference in how I received and processed feedback.
Understanding the value of feedback, and having the ability to give and receive it effectively is probably one of the most critical skills that a leader must possess. No process or strategy can ever succeed without a feedback loop to inform us of the course corrections we need to make to improve the outcome. Most people say they would prefer to receive straight and honest feedback, yet everyday in organizations everywhere, leaders hesitate to provide helpful feedback, or they deliver it in a way that is not productive. I believe this is partly due to lack of skill, but also because of the context we create for feedback.