Ep 152: Feedback As A Weapon And A Shield
As a leader, your willingness to receive and provide feedback is essential. Adam Quiney explains in this episode how you can use feedback as a weapon and a shield. Sometimes people will use feedback as a weapon to fix what they don’t want to be within this moment. You need to develop the skill to distinguish whether it’s genuine feedback or not. Tune in to learn more on using feedback to your advantage!
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Feedback As A Weapon And A Shield
In this episode, the focus will be on Feedback as a weapon and a shield for leaders and how to deal with it.
These are conversations that cause leadership. The hope is not that you take these conversations and then start talking about leadership using them, not like, “I heard this. We should implement more of this.” The intention is that you hear these conversations and then go and start to show up to embody what we are speaking to here. What causing leadership is about you take them and begin being a leader as opposed to having more information to talk about with people. We are going to be talking about feedback as both a weapon and a shield. We are going to distinguish the tight rope that leaders must walk when it comes to feedback.
The Creating Clients Course is underway. The Forge starts properly in September 2021. We are in our final month. We have about six seats that are open and available. I can’t remember how many people have signed up but I believe six is what we have left. It is a phenomenal program. It runs for nine months. It will have you develop as a leader who coaches and a coach who leads and includes a retreat somewhere awesome on the other side of the pandemic, clearing up. It will transform and change your life. Our central promise is that you will not leave the same person that you came in as. That doesn’t mean that we are going to discombobulate you and change you into someone different. We are going to support you in becoming more of who you have always been. That’s the mission. If that’s something that sounds interesting to you, if you would like these conversations and you would like to go deeper into yourself, you can learn more about that program at EverGrowthCoaching.com/the-forge.
Let’s get into it. What are we talking about when we say feedback and it is a weapon and a shield? As a starting point, as a leader, your willingness to receive and provide feedback is essential. A leader that’s not open to feedback is a leader that becomes un-impactable. They are closed. Thus, they lose access to all of their own ability to impact anyone else. You might have to take me at a given there. What happens is when people find that they give feedback to the leader, the leader may listen but they are not actually open to it. The feedback doesn’t ever make an impact. It gets filtered into does the leader already agrees with this or do they disagree? If they agree, they go along with it. That’s not allowing anyone to have an impact on you. All it does is allow people to fit into what you have already decided and agreed with.
A willingness to receive and let land feedback is an essential component of being a leader. First of all, before we go anywhere, we have to address our own defensiveness and resistance to receiving feedback as a leader. There are a whole variety of ways that we can avoid being with the challenge of receiving feedback. Many of which we have covered in previous episodes. Reading as though you are open when you are closed, reading for whether or not you agree or disagree with this feedback, reading for, whether you already know this feedback, reading for how this feedback is the same thing as that other thing over there that you are more comfortable with.
The fact that you’re feeling confronted is a great thing because it signals transformation. Click To Tweet
This episode is about a different challenge. What we are going to be talking about is the boundary that a leader needs to draw in receiving feedback. If you always receive feedback, if no matter what people can interrupt you and give you feedback, that’s going to become problematic. That’s what we are going to talk about. The risk of this episode is that a leader then takes it and it’s like, “That’s such a great reason for me not to receive feedback.” It’s like your foundational piece as a leader is like, “Am I open to the feedback? Where am I not open to feedback? I will bring that to my coach, to my leader, the person supporting me so I can actually move through that so I can keep becoming a leader who is deepening and becoming ever more impactable to create more impact in the world.” That’s the foundation.
This episode sits atop that. You are reliable and responsible to continue deepening into receiving feedback, let’s look at where you are always on willingness to receive feedback is problematic. That caveat aside, this conversation is about when people you are supporting in their own transformation use feedback as a means to avoid being with what they don’t want to be with and why that’s a challenge for you as a leader. How does this show up? As you stand for people, they are going to get confronted. Remember, standing means standing for something beyond their capacity. Something beyond someone’s capacity means stepping into the unknown.
Trainer And Weightlifting Analogy
The easiest analogy would be that your trainer stands for you to lift more weight than your capacity allows for. That’s going to create a degree of discomfort. The trainer’s not going to grab the weights and lift them for you. Most of them won’t shout at you but they are also not going to give up and walk away when you struggle. They are standing for you to lift those weights. That’s going to push you beyond your capacity, which is going to be annoying. In the ontological realm of leadership, stepping into the unknown is a lot more nuanced and harder to see than lifting weights. Lifting weights, you were like, “Twenty I can do, 25 I can’t.” Here, it’s a little harder to see. Your unknown, remember, is both possibility and fear showing up in equal opposite counterparts. Into the realm of what you don’t already know is going to have a whole bunch of new possibilities available. Alongside it, a whole bunch of fear that comes with it.
You don’t have to worry too much about what I said. The most important point is to remember that as you stand for people to push outside of their existing capacity, they are going to get confronted. The reason they will get confronted is that there are going to be some fear that shows up. People being confronted is not wrong. In fact, as leaders, we expect it and welcome it. Their confrontation is an indication that they are up to something new and edgy. If your people are never confronted if it’s always like, “Everything’s hunky-dory and we are all doing great and that’s awesome.” That’s not necessarily wrong but it would be a hint to me that there are not a lot of transformation happening. You may not wish to have a lot of transformation happening. There are lots of coaches that are not transformational in their approach.
They are largely facilitative so they help you do what you are already reliable to do but maybe a little bit faster inside of your existing range. That’s fine. A lot of those people would argue that they are not doing that. That’s also fine but the measure is, “Are people getting confronted?” Not because the coach has been a jerkwad but because they are up to something that’s outside of their comfort zone that they don’t yet know how to do. The confrontation that your people have as you as leaders stand for something beyond what you are already reliable to do is an indication that you and they are up to something edgy and new. They are playing outside of their comfort zone where leadership is forged. The leader’s willingness to be with people as they are confronted and to welcome what is showing up rather than to try to fix it is the measure of a leader’s capacity to cause transformation.
Incidentally, this requires that you be willing to have people stand for you as you get confronted. They want to give this down below. They want to be the leader that gives us to other people and stands with them as they are confronted but are unwilling to have the same thing done for themselves. You see this all the time in the coaching profession where coaches want to stand for other people and support them in living lives with possibility. When it comes time to hire their own coach, they have one million and one excuse. Likewise, you see that a lot in the leadership industry, profession. People trying to deliver something that they are unwilling to take themselves.
It’s out of integrity and it doesn’t work. We can feel it in their being. We notice this even if we don’t have words for it. What happens that has this feedback thing show up? When people are confronted, they are going to do whatever they have learned to do to get out of their confrontation. If I’m putting you in front of something you don’t want to be with, you have probably had experiences in your life prior to this one where you were forced to be with someone you didn’t want to be with. You have learned some strategies to get away with it. Maybe you would be nasty or maybe if something is confronting for you as being in a relationship where someone is telling you how you have done them wrong and what you learned to do is walk away. It’s a great strategy to get out of that confrontation.
Anytime people get confronted, they were going to run naturally, automatically a whole bunch of the strategies that they have learned to do to get out of confrontation. Many of our previous episodes are about the various strategies that allow us to get out of our confrontation. You can look back if you want, you will see a lot of those. In this episode, we are going to be talking about feedback as a means to avoid being confronted. Here’s how this works. The leader provides feedback or awareness into something that, let’s say, their direct report is unable to see. What’s happening here is the leader is revealing a blind spot to the direct report. “Sammy, I notice that you always micromanage your people.” This is going to be in Sammy’s blind spot because Sammy is insistent that they don’t do that. They hate micromanagement. They are avidly against it.
We will call this leader, Reggie because it’s always Reggie. Reggie tells Sammy, “I noticed that this is the thing you do.” Sammy is going to have a reaction and a resistance to that blind spot. That’s going to create some confrontation and discomfort for Sammy. The direct, Sammy, relates to their experience of being confronted as though something is wrong. Sammy does not experience their confrontation like, “This is the crucible for my transformation. The fact that I’m feeling confronted is a great thing. I’m so glad I listened to that episode of Get Lit where Adam told me all about this. Now I can relax. That’s all how it goes.” What happens to Sammy is that Reggie tells them this and they experienced discomfort, confrontation and dissonance that they are being told. They show up the way that they are dead set against showing up.
Leaders commit to working on the feedback they receive to inspire others to do the same. Click To Tweet
From that confrontation, something’s going to happen. Sammy’s going to use feedback in this example. Before I get into that, though, I want to reiterate this. Sammy doesn’t relate to the way he’s feeling as though, “This is my work to take on.” He relates to the way he is feeling as being an indication that something is wrong out there, that Reggie has done something wrong. There was a wrong way that Reggie has delivered this feedback. From here, Sammy is going to take steps to address or rearrange their world so that what is wrong out there becomes resolved. Being resolved means that whatever’s confronting them will be addressed and sees to confront them. This is where feedback comes into the picture.
Staying Open To Feedback
One of the ways your direct reports or those you are coaching will seek to address the problem of they are being confronted is by providing you or Sammy providing Reggie the leader, feedback so that they do not get led into the same confronting experience in the future. Sammy, you might say to Reggie, “Reggie, I would like to give you some feedback on that.” Reggie, trying to be a good leader, is like, “I’m always open to feedback.” Sammy says, “I felt like the way you delivered that was bad and the timing was off. I didn’t feel like you saw me. Maybe in the future, you could spend more time and do it this way.”
This is a real challenge for leaders because you are going to be walking the tight rope between trying to stay open to feedback. Remember, that’s your foundation, your commitment to continuing to do your own work from the feedback you get and to model being receptive so that other people have a claiming creative for them to do the same. All of that commitment I mentioned on your part as a leader provides the perfect place where people can hook you and get out of their confrontation. What’s happening in that example is that Sammy is holding like, “Reggie gave me feedback. It left me feeling confronted.” Whatever else shows up when Sammy feels confronted. For some people, their confrontation will feel like they are stupid. They will feel wrong and dumb. They shouldn’t be here. From that experience, they will try to give feedback so that next time they don’t have to be here.
What will predictably happen if Reggie takes that on, it’s like, “I will do that,” is that in the future, Reggie is now going to tiptoe around Sammy to try to make sure that Sammy doesn’t have to feel that same way again. Next time, Sammy’s still going to feel that way provided there’s any degree of confrontation, which is necessary given there’s any degree of transformation happening. Sammy will provide more feedback and get frustrated with Reggie and say, “I tried to tell you.” Next time Reggie tries to tiptoe even more and hold Sammy with even more kid gloves. You can see that this opens up like a cycle where the only real way for Reggie to never confront and create this experience for Sammy is to completely sanitize the feedback they provide so that there will never be any chance to transformation.
It all begins because what Sammy is doing is using feedback as a weapon to strike back. “The way I feel is wrong, I should not have been put in this situation. I will give feedback to ensure that.” As a leader, people are going to want to give you feedback ostensibly to support you to not create the same experience for them again. The challenge here is that this experience, provided you are getting supported by your coaches and leaders, you’ve got to do your own work. From there, this experience you have created is intentional. Sammy should be feeling this way because that is what we were intending. Remember, Sammy’s the direct report as a result, the feedback Sammy is giving in this instance is a little bit like if you woke up in the middle of stomach surgery and you noticed all your guts and blood and you decided now is a good time to provide the surgeon with feedback. It’s not. You’re in a process. Feedback is great.
Before we go there, let’s have you stay in the process. This is part of what we have to do as leaders where we are learning to create art, where we were like, “Part of the feedback that they are providing is from their confrontation.” We will talk about what you might do, how you might work with this. I’m hoping to convey to you a little bit of the challenge here so you can see how slippery and sophisticated our ego can be at creating safety for us. What’s going on here is being underneath the feedback. The challenge here is distinguishing the content or the doing of someone giving feedback from who they are being underneath it. The feedback itself may be great. It may be valuable feedback that you need to receive.
There’s nothing wrong with someone’s feedback per se but what’s happening is under the surface in these situations is the person that’s using feedback to fix what they don’t want to be within this moment. By providing you feedback, they get to ensure that they or some future version of themselves or another person, doesn’t have to be in the same experience the next time around. They are effectively solving their discomfort by addressing it in the future and making you, on some level, wrong for what you have created. That’s quite challenging. What there typically is to do is when someone offers you feedback at the moment, you have to feel into this.
As you get supported by your own coaches and leaders to do the same work yourself, you will become more nuanced and noticing this because it’s going to be pointed out when you are coming from this place. The more you can start to see when you are coming from this place, the easier it is to distinguish over there. When you notice that what there typically are to do is to say, “I would love to have your feedback and I value it. Before we go there, I would like to support you in coming through this process because I have given you some feedback that’s quite confronting. Here’s what I know about the experience of being confronted, is it often feels like it’s wrong at the moment and then we want to give feedback from that place? Would you be willing to write down that feedback? Store it, I promise we will come back to it, make sure you are reliable to do that. The leader sets a reminder of something and then makes sure you are reliable to come back to report. Would you be willing to stay with me in this so we can move you all the way through before we start to receive feedback?”
Only fools believe they've already mastered their art. Click To Tweet
Leaders leading leaders, when you are developing leaders in your organization, there will be a point where your leaders have feedback for you. This is the challenge of leadership. There are moments when that feedback is going to be in the face of your own resistance. There will be other moments when that feedback is offered in the face of the resistance of the person offering it. Sometimes you are leading someone, you are going to be resistant to getting feedback, other times, people are going to give you feedback from their resistance. As you can hopefully tell, this is challenging to take on separate from yourself. Since you can’t see your own blind spots, you are going to have a hard time determining whether this is your resistance to receiving feedback or your direct reports.
Sometimes it’s going to be both. What do we do about it? We work with our own coaches and leaders. You can develop this skill and become more nuanced and refined as you work in this area but it’s a fool that believes they have already mastered this art. That’s why we must be willing to take on that support so you can grow and become masterful in areas like these. Remember, the places where your blind spots and those of your clients, direct reports or whoever overlap will be the richest areas for both of your leadership. Hold these opportunities with reverence by getting support. That’s where you can do your best work.
Leadership Must Be Hierarchical
To some extent, leadership must be hierarchical. One of the ways I heard it described in one of the organizations I did a lot of this work in was, garbage up, gold down. What that means is that you bring to your leader your garbage, your unrefined stuff, anger, frustration with your own people below you and get supported by them. The people above you provide you their gold but they bring their garbage up. The people above them provide the gold down. That can be a little bit like, “It’s a Ponzi scheme. There’s no end to it.” There is a degree of truth to that. If the truth is that there is always more depth available when I’m willing to allow someone else to support me, then there is no finish line. No person has got it all handled because then they are missing out on some of the available depth.
I find it easier and simpler to simply acknowledge that my work will never be done and that I’m committed to always working with people, coaches, leaders that can support me in deepening because that allows me to do my best work for the people that I’m supporting. It’s a challenging conversation. If you have any stories or situations where you have noticed this happen, I would love for you to write me and let me know about them. They make rich conversation. A lot of the people who are in the forage on our leadership track and are developing their leadership, this is a sticky place. I used to see this often in other organizations where I was working with people’s leadership too where they wanted to create this loving, everyone is a leader, we are standing for each other’s leadership thing. Everyone is a leader but then they would lose all of the hierarchy.
We are all developing each other’s leadership. That becomes a morass because I’m going to point to something over there for you and then you are going to point to the other side of it over here with me and then, where are we? Hopefully, we will both take it on. Please send me an email. You can do that at GetLit@AdamQuiney.com. I would love to hear from you, any stories you have around this particular thing. That is all that we’ve got for you. Next episode, we are going to be talking about the need to teach and the struggle to trust. It’s going to be a good one. We will see you then. Bye.
About Adam Quiney
I’m an obsessive perfectionist, high-performer, former lawyer, and now an Executive Mentor. I know what it’s like to succeed easily and quickly. To blindly put my happiness in the hands of achievement.
All the success, money and possessions in the world couldn’t cure my boredom. Couldn’t produce a loving, intimate relationship with my wife…and definitely couldn’t fulfill me.
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