Unlocking the Heart and Soul of Remarkable Leadership, Keith Merron
Remarkable Leadership

Archive for March, 2010

Leadership & Feedback

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

For years, my executive coaching has been based on a number

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of guiding practices. One of these practices has been to always get some form of feedback about the coachee from others at the early part of my work with the client. Sometimes I get that feedback in the form of a 360-degree instrument. Sometimes I get it by interviewing others. And sometimes I ask the client to interview others and share with me what he/she learned. I feel that is critical, for without that feedback, I and the client can be flying a bit blind. Here is a story that illustrates my point.

An executive in one of my client systems has been working with a coach to help her become more effective in the workplace—in particular she wants to be more centered and effective in her communications with others. That coach (let’s call him Jack) has never worked in the company, and only knows about the client’s (let’s call her Jane) behavior based on Jane’s report to him. Jack has been working with Jane for a number of months now, and Jane reports that she is making great progress.

My observations of Jane, however, and the observations of the entire senior executive team, are different than her own experience. Most people feel Jane has not made progress, and, in some ways has become even more defiant in her belief about her approach. I mediated a meeting between Jane and another executive where Jane received feedback that she comes across as defensive. After the meeting, Jane said to me that she was “unwilling to work with this person as long as that person continues to……” Jane then went on to say, with great pride, “I’m learning in my coaching how to be true to my own feelings, and not cater so much to the needs of others.” Jane continued to emphasize how much she had learned from her coach, and indeed she may have.

However, the coach, I suspect, is attempting to help Jane without knowledge of how she is perceived by others in the organization. Without the crucial knowledge, he and Jane run the significant risk that the work they do will lead her to a conclusion not based on valid feedback. Without the feedback, she remains somewhat blind to her impact on others, and the coach, with a positive intent to support, continues to coach her based on her blind perception. The net effect appears to be that she has made no changes in areas that she is blind to, and it is precisely these areas that are problematic in Jane’s behavior.

In my mind, feedback is the breakfast of champion leaders. I have noticed over the years that the best leaders are often quite aware of the impact they have on others. They know themselves well and can easily see themselves through the eyes of others. They have this capacity, in part, because they constantly seek and listen deeply to the feedback of others. As a result, their self-perception is closely match with how others see them. Without the typical defensive routines that most others

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go through, these leaders willingly learn from others. Poor leaders, by contrast, are fearful of feedback and when it comes, often don’t let it in. As a result, they remain unaware of the impact they have on others and unaware of their own blind spots.