To Grow as a Leader, Ask For Feedback and Be Open to Hearing It, Including Negative Comments

As a leader, creating an environment where open communication and feedback are welcomed and encouraged is important. You not only need to give continuous feedback to your team, but you must seek it out as well. Asking for your team's input and allowing staff to express their opinions about your leadership style and their experience at the organization gives you the chance to address their concerns. That information then enables you to build a stronger and more effective organization. 

Receiving feedback gracefully and taking action to make the necessary improvements boosts your performance as a leader. It also creates a healthy work environment where everyone can thrive. 

Yet, asking for and receiving feedback can be humbling and frustrating because it requires you to be vulnerable. You must be ready and willing to acknowledge that you can improve. You might even find some weaknesses that you need to address.

Being on the receiving end of feedback helps you be more empathetic because it reminds you of what it is like for your team to receive feedback from you.   

It is critical that you actively and openly listen to feedback from your team. As a leader, you are modeling good communication for everyone else in the organization. Like it or not, they look to you to show them how to behave and to learn what's acceptable in your culture. Everyone's watching you for your reaction. They want to see how you respond to feedback, especially if it is negative. 

Of course, you still get to decide what suggestions to implement. But your willingness to listen and act upon some (if not all) of these suggestions shows you are open to becoming a better leader. Your response sends a positive message. And your commitment to improving is how you will build a strong, productive, and communicative culture. 

6 steps to receiving and integrating feedback from your team.

Getting feedback from others can be awkward, frustrating, or even irritating. Perhaps they don't have all the facts or present their feedback as if they know more than you do. Regardless of their level of knowledge, it is important to seek, receive, and integrate feedback from all levels of your organization to gain a broader perspective. 

Think of the television show "Undercover Boss," where the leader was often shocked to learn how front-line workers felt about the organization. But if you build feedback into your organization's SOPs, you won't have to go undercover -- you'll already have a handle on the problem areas. 

As the person in charge, it's important not only to tolerate receiving negative feedback but to request it and acknowledge its value. Feedback allows you to hear your team's perspective and helps you know how to improve the organization and be a more effective leader. 

To better receive and integrate feedback from your team:

  1. Be humble. When listening to your employee's feedback, take your ego out of it. Don't personalize the information, even if it is unsolicited. Whether positive or negative, consider it an opportunity for you and your organization to grow and learn.  
  2. Listen to understand. Listen with a curious and open mind. Be present. Don't assume you know what others are going to say, but instead, be genuinely interested in the feedback your employee shares with you. Even if you think you understand their point of view, ask questions. Hearing their perspective helps you connect with their actual experience without your leadership filter, and it helps depersonalize the information. Please don't fake it or minimize their words or feelings. Listen to their point of view because they might not be alone in their thinking, and you might need to hear what they are saying to make some essential shifts in the workplace or your attitude. Even if it stings, ask for clarification before filtering what they share with you through your leadership lens. Don't tune out. Listen with a desire to understand.
  3. Don't get defensive. Getting defensive will shut down the person offering feedback, making them hesitate to speak up in the future. It also sends the message that it is not safe to speak openly with you and that the organization is not open to feedback. The reverberations are widespread when you shut down feedback because your entire team is carefully watching your reactions.  
    Defensiveness occurs when you are unhappy with what someone is saying because it makes you uncomfortable. Instead of acknowledging the person's comments, you refuse to take responsibility for your part. You may justify your behavior, blame others, or get angry and lash out. Or you may react subtly, rolling your eyes while they're speaking, paying little or no attention to them, or dismissing them with a gesture indicating you've heard enough. 
    When you get defensive, you stop listening to understand and start reacting or minimizing whatever the other person is saying to you. That's when your discomfort causes you to overreact. So, for the sake of the organization, please make an effort to truly understand your employee's concerns and remember that they are trying to help.
  4. Give them the benefit of the doubt. When someone offers you feedback, please give them the benefit of the doubt that they are offering information they believe will be helpful for you to know. Treat the person giving you feedback with kindness and respect, even if their comments are hard to hear. 
  5. Show your appreciation. Some feedback will be incredibly valuable and help you improve. Other feedback will be off the mark. Either way, think about what your employee shared with you and let them know you appreciate that they took the opportunity (and even the risk) to speak with you. They may be misinterpreting a policy, and you need to revisit how it's written. Or perhaps you are unaware of how a decision or change you made impacts them.
  6. Respond thoughtfully. If you are unsure what to say, take a moment to think about how you want to respond to your employee's feedback. Sincerely thank them for their comment and tell them you need to consider it further. And then, hit the proverbial pause button, and give yourself time to reflect on the information they shared, rather than responding quickly or impulsively, especially if the feedback was critical or unexpected. You want your team to regard you as a leader who cares about your employees and, therefore, what they think should matter to you, even if you disagree. 
    You get to decide what to do with the feedback you receive, but it's important to show your team that you value their input. Once you've considered a person's feedback, follow up with them. Let them know how you used the information they provided and how it influenced your decision, even if you ultimately rejected their suggestion. Consider sharing how or why a certain decision was made, and use the conversation as a learning opportunity to explain the broader picture.

As you build trust with your team, they will openly share their ideas and model your kind and thoughtful approach. Seek your team's feedback regularly, and use it as an opportunity for you and your employees to learn and grow together as a unified organization. If you'd like to improve teamwork, productivity, and workplace culture, consider a company-wide professional development program that teaches strong communication skills, such as The Communication Protocol.

And while being open to feedback might sound simplistic, the long-term value to the organization extends to the next generation of leaders.


©Copyright 2022 Debra Roberts, LCSW All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be reproduced without permission from the publisher.

A version of this article was initially published on as: To Improve Your Performance as a Leader, Seek Feedback