All Feedback Is Not Created Equal


Feedback is important to leaders. The more ways you can ask for feedback, the better. Consider some of the most popular methods:

Ask: Asking for feedback is the simplest and most expedient. Rather than asking “How did I do?”, ask for specifics (“What did you notice that I did well in that presentation today?”) in order to get more than one word answer (“Fine.”).

360: Your organization may have an electronic instrument they use for developmental feedback; ask your HR representative. If not, you can hire an outside coach or consultant to provide an instrument as well as interpret it for you.

Qualitative Interviews: A coach or consultant can do qualitative interviews with your stakeholders – your manager, peers, and direct reports (and others, like customers/clients or other contacts). They will ask about your strengths and gaps and provide you with a report that summarizes what they heard.

These are all good ways of receiving feedback, and all have their upsides and their downsides (which I’m not planning to write about in this post). What I wanted to help you with is how to think about the feedback you receive from any of these approaches. It’s your choice to decide what to take action on from the feedback you’ve received. Here are some ways to ponder it:

Is it the truth? When we’re talking about what that others see, we’re not talking about an exact science. One person may see your direct style as advantageous; another may see it as offensive. Each person who is asked for feedback may see it in a different way as perceptions are filtered through the eyes of the beholder. However, perceptions can be pretty darned important. What matters is what truth you see in the situation.

Does it really matter to me? Don’t buy into taking action on the feedback you’ve received if you aren’t passionate that it will make a difference to you and the way you lead. In other words, don’t make any changes for anyone but YOU. It doesn’t make sense to try to change something that you aren’t absolutely zealous about working on (it’s hard to change and it might just come across as phony otherwise).

What is the context of the feedback I received? If you are a senior executive who is getting feedback that you’re micro-managing, that’s probably something you need to sit up and consider changing. However, there may be specific circumstances that warrant a higher level of involvement – especially if you are new to the organization and need to learn more (once you learn, you should back off).

I’m a big fan of feedback for leaders – the more we know about how others perceive us, the less chance we have of becoming blinded to the behaviors that can derail us. But don’t blindly accept feedback; it’s important to spend the time to reflectively think about it and then (maybe) take action on it.



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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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