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If you don’t want to know, don’t ask.

For six years I ran a conference through my company Winning Mind Training called The Legacy of Excellence Conference. It was a four day event where I brought in great speakers on timely topics. I started giving out Daily Feedback Forms asking people to reflect on the day and give me feedback on their takeaways, the presentations and anything I could have done to enhance the learning experience for them. One day I was venting after reading one of the forms where someone had complained that they didn’t like the lunch that was included with the conference. My oldest son Jesse stopped me and said, “Dad. You asked and they told you. If you don’t want to know, don’t ask.” It was great advice that I have remembered and shared since that day.

As a leader it is important to get feedback. Feedback from the people you lead, from your peers and from your boss.  You have likely been told the importance of asking for feedback. The key however, is that you need to be willing to actually listen to the feedback and say, “Thank you. I appreciate you giving me your feedback.”

If you are not willing to listen with an open mind, then do not ask for the feedback. If you are going to immediately get defensive, dismiss the validity of the feedback and make excuses, do not bother asking for the feedback. If you are going to get angry and lash out at the person giving the feedback, don’t bother asking.

If people know you are going to get mad, and then seek to get even, if you do not like the feedback, then don’t bother asking, as people will be afraid to provide honest feedback.

It can be helpful to have trusted people at different levels of your organization to whom you give permission to approach you at any time with feedback on how a presentation, decision, memo, video, policy, action or communication on your part is perceived by people at their level in the organization. Communication can be challenging and sometimes the message you intended is not what was heard or interpreted by others. This immediate feedback gives you the opportunity to apologize to people that you did not communicate effectively in the original communication and correct your message. This needs to done with humility and sincerity or it will be a waste of time and further widen the communication gap.

If you have created a culture of Psychological Safety it is more likely that people will feel comfortable providing honest, helpful feedback. You need to let people know that you are sincerely striving to improve and need their candid feedback in order for you to do that. Be patient if you are a new leader in an area. Understand that people have likely been burned before and are reluctant to jump back into the fire. If you only ever get generic feedback that, “Everything is fine. You are doing a good job. I have no complaints.” It should be a red flag that likely there is a problem.

Feedback is important for all of us to help us become aware of, and navigate our blind spots.  Feedback however can be uncomfortable. If you are not willing to listen to the feedback, don’t ask for it. If you are not willing to listen to the feedback then you will not be able to grow as a leader and best serve the people you have the privilege to lead.

Be willing to ask. Be willing to listen. Be willing to reflect. Be willing to take action to improve. Be willing to be a leader.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey. The Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop was created for aspiring leaders and frontline leaders to help you on your leadership journey.

Brian Willis