Five reasons leaders should crave feedback

Over the course of our company’s 17 year history, “receiving feedback” evolved from a very negative experience motivated by contempt, frustration, and unforgiveness—to being the most precious thing anyone could give. It became a lifeline.

Back in 2016, we narrowly escaped a major, “Houston we have a problem,” situation. And while our business recovered and course corrected, we failed to investigate and understand the root cause of what brought Softway to such a critical situation: our leadership’s misbehaviors.

We were blind to it and we had no system to talk about it—we even lacked the willingness to want to talk about it. Finally, we did what at the time seemed unthinkable—and in retrospect, quite obvious—we (leadership) asked for honest, unadulterated feedback, from everyone.

We didn’t like what we heard, but we liked what we could do with what we heard—our misbehaviors were laid out right in front of us, and we could no longer ignore them under the guise of, “we had no idea.”

Leadership feedback became integral to our getting back on track and staying on track in 2016, and it has again proven to be essential to our surviving and eventual thriving in 2020.

We didn’t just become more receptive to feedback, we started to crave it—and we became more resilient because of it. Don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze?

The juice is definitely worth the squeeze

When life gives you lemons, juice those suckers and make lemonade.

That is getting feedback. When things don’t go well, when you make mistakes, when others make mistakes—juice those moments, get feedback, and make something good of it.

Here’s a few reasons the juice is worth the squeeze:

1. A better team leader? No way!?!

Yes, way.

Let’s say you’re new to your managerial role, or your team just picked up a few new members—or worse off, you’ve just lost several members of your team. In those moments of change and uncertainty, you’re more likely than not going to ask yourself, “What can I do to serve my team best?”

Instead of: assuming and trying to anticipate what they need, recollecting on the actions of your old manager, or taking shots in the dark—ask them for feedback.

If you want to consistently support and motivate your team to be high-performing in this consistently vexing year, the secret is to ask for employee feedback—early and often.

Alright, so it’s not a secret, but I’ve wasted enough time running laps in my head trying to figure out what my team needed, when all I had to do was ask.

2. Self-awareness is sexy

Feedback can be a reference point. In 2016, our leaders’ misbehaviors nearly compromised our mission. It was our employees’ feedback that alerted us just how far off course we had drifted.

Once our misbehaviors were laid out in front of us—our propensities, habits, and toxic behaviors became clear and present. We could then begin introspecting on and deconstructing those bad behaviors, and reconstructing better, healthier ones.

Self-aware leaders are more than simply aware of team dynamics and the industry landscape. They have an honest and pragmatic sense of who they are, as leaders. They play to their strengths, but are mindful and vulnerable to their weaknesses.

Feedback drives introspection—it’s a litmus for guiding growth and self-awareness. Without feedback, we’d have no way of knowing where we are or where we’re headed.

3. Empathy

So, your team just had a pitch that landed a little flat, a team member is falling behind—or you just walked out of a team meeting that got contentious. It happens—but what needs to come after is feedback.

Feedback is not exclusively a concept of , “How am I doing?” But also, “How are you doing?” When teams face difficulty and difference, getting feedback is important to building empathy in the workplace and finding solutions, together.

According to Businesssolver’s 2020 report, State of Workplace Empathy:

  • 96% of employees say that mental health is equally important as physical health,
  • 76% of employees believe an empathetic organization inspires more motivated employees, compared to 65% who said the same in 2019,
  • and 83% of Gen Z employees would choose an employer with a strong culture of empathy over an employer offering a slightly higher salary.

It’s clear, today’s modern leaders need to be empathetic. And the best way to cultivate an empathetic leadership style is to get feedback and ask your team: “How are you doing?”

4. A community growth-mindset

When you earnestly and consistently ask for feedback, you are openly holding yourself accountable and demonstrating a dedication to growth. You are showing your team, “Hey, I’m not perfect and I need your help.”

That employee empowerment, that allowing your team to invest in and be a part of your growth is contagious. They’ll see your transformation and nagging need for feedback, and want the same for themselves.

In Carol S. Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she wrote, "[with] a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. So rather than thinking, ‘oh, I'm going to reveal my weaknesses’, you say, ‘wow, here's a chance to grow.’"

Now imagine entire teams with this growth mindset—entire organizations. It’s possible, but it begins with leadership—and it begins with you asking for feedback.

5. Resilience: strength through support

As leaders in such an eventful year—you’ve likely heard, read, or seen somewhere, something prodding you, “Be resilient!”

Resilience is important, but too often it’s framed incorrectly, and it’s meaning is misconstrued.

If you look at the artwork that accompanies most articles impelling you to be resilient, you’ll notice it’s usually a lone standing person, or some Sir Edmund Hillary style graphic—you know, an image of someone climbing a mountain, or standing on top of some other geological structure.

But why? Why a mountain?—I haven’t had to climb any mountains in my 17 years as President and CEO of Softway. I’ve never been alone either—in the pits 2016, and through 2020 so far, I have not been alone.

Resilient leadership may begin within, but sustaining it comes from around—it comes from feedback.

Feedback is a gift and a lifeline—it takes work, being vulnerable, and connecting with others—crave it, because the juice is always worth the squeeze.