Leadership Requires Healthy Relationships with Feedback

Last month, we talked about the Circle of Frustration that many leaders and their organizations fall into. It often happens when businesses start to go awry – they lose their focus, and too many team members or departments start going in different directions.

In other words, they lose alignment.

Over the next several months, we’ll explore seven steps that individuals and organizations can take to realign their organizations.

But it won’t be easy.

The heart of business alignment involves asking essential questions, making decisions in alignment with those answers, and repeating the process as necessary.

Here are the seven business alignment steps we’ll explore over the next several months:

  1. Confront reality
  2. Start from the inside
  3. Know your bolt-on alignment tools
  4. Choose your core alignment tools
  5. Choose your guide
  6. Maintain alignment
  7. Find the starting line

Confront Reality

The unwillingness to confront reality manifests itself in what I call the leader’s unhealthy relationship with feedback. Let me tell you a quick story about Frank.

I worked with Frank and his company over the years on the finances and strategy. Eighteen months had passed and I stopped by for lunch. His team had been buzzing with excitement.

I asked him what had happened since we last met.

“Alex,” he said, “I spent $15,000 on this new plan, and it has been sitting in that drawer for more than six weeks. I can’t bring myself to read it. It feels like there’s a force preventing me from opening the drawer.”

Then I understood. Frank had a plan in his drawer to confront reality, but he couldn’t look at it. The first starting line for breaking out of the circle of frustration as the business owner is to assess your relationship with feedback.

The plan stayed in the drawer and key members of his team left the company as the excitement faded.

Feedback: Healthy Relationship

Leaders with a healthy relationship with feedback are the ones who can objectively confront reality. These leaders are more likely to improve their businesses because the feedback empowers them to ask truth-seeking questions, objectively assess results, and make decisions that help push the company forward.

A healthy relationship with feedback exists when you can unemotionally assess the results of your business (also called outputs, feedback, or negative stimuli) and then rationally determine what inputs (or actions) you need to change. It seems simple, and leaders with a healthy relationship with feedback rarely get stuck in the circle of frustration.

Feedback: Unhealthy Relationship

Meanwhile, leaders who have an unhealthy relationship with feedback are less likely to change their status quo.

An unhealthy relationship with feedback often shows itself when a leader responds to negative stimuli with negative emotion. The leader’s typical response is a BADJ declarative statement—one expressing Blame, Anger, Denial, or Justification.

Alternatively, a non-reaction is just as unhealthy. Not responding to something significant is a silent form of denial. Either reaction prevents the leader from confronting reality.

For either relationship, the key identifier is to listen to the leader’s reactions to unexpected feedback. People know how to respond to what they expect will occur, but the unexpected exposes their reality.

Feedback: Assessing Your Relationship

Now that you understand the concept of having a relationship with feedback, you’re ready to assess your own relationship.

The key to unlocking the starting gate is getting a triangulated assessment of your relationship. Is it healthy or unhealthy, and to what degree? If you have an unhealthy feedback relationship, you will need to do some work before you can benefit from implementing business improvement concepts since they all assume leaders have a healthy relationship.

You can assess your relationship with feedback by monitoring your internal dialogue, searching for emotional no-fly zones, and asking others for their perspectives.

Take a good, hard look at yourself and your relationship with feedback. Be honest, and spend some time with it. Once you have an objective perspective on yourself then look at your team's relationship.

Once you’ve identified your position, congratulations: you’ve found the personalized starting line to transform your company. You now have an important key to exit the Circle of Frustration.