The Humble Leader: Giving and Receiving Feedback


Leadership leadership keynote |

Being a leader that welcomes feedback sounds like such a great idea. On paper. Giving and receiving feedback in real life is much more complex and can contribute to the rise or fall of leaders, small businesses, and corporations. On a relational level, Dr. Gottman of the Gottman Institute in Seattle, Washington, identifies defensiveness as one of “The Four Horsemen,” which can erode and drastically affect relationships over time.

What is defensiveness?

Dr. Gottman defines defensiveness as “self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack.” If a leader is defined by defensiveness and will not receive or consider feedback from peers, staff, or board members, I believe the same principles apply. The business these individual guides are on a path not to grow, not to be innovative, and not to create a positive work environment.

Feedback can be hard

I don’t believe a business defined by defensiveness will survive in the long run. Receiving feedback is hard. It can hurt. Feedback can be given in ways that undermine and bite. Receiving feedback takes courage and humility. I have written at length, furthering the concept that humility is one of the most important qualities of a leader. A humble leader gives and welcomes feedback graciously, and with care. But how does a leader develop an openness to feedback, constructive criticism, and honest communication?

The new model

The world is beginning to take note, and humble “servant” leadership, is becoming more of the model, rather than the exception. It seems as though the days of an authoritarian leader in a corner office barking orders and closing deals are winding down, and a new leader is emerging. These new leaders have fresh openness and trust in those around them, empowering people to live and perform out of their strengths instead of living out of weakness or fear. 

I have admired and learned from Ed and Peter Schein and their positive influence in the business world. They emphasize “Humble Leadership” as a verb, “exercised by any member of any given workgroup,” and they transform the traditional adherence to leadership into something bigger, more collaborative, and distinctly egalitarian. 

What steps does a leader need to take to create a radical environment of collaboration where giving and receiving feedback becomes part of the culture? Here are three things a leader can do.

 1) Be willing to relinquish power.

Giving up control could be one of the most fundamentally counter-cultural traits one could possess. A leader who can relinquish power harnesses the collaborative power of an entire group, and collaborative power is far greater than the total power of one. 

 2) Be willing to share power.

The humble leader shares power by recognizing the unique and beneficial talents and traits of those on the team and delegates roles based on gifting, not on title or time with the company. Change and growth come from believing in the workers and allowing people to do what they have been gifted to do, tapping into an underutilized strength. 

 3) Be willing to distribute power. 

Power can be tapped into when team members feel ownership and purpose—when their gifts are recognized and used—and it’s time to spread and unleash a collective team working together at its highest capacity. 

These qualities are the hidden traits of a person who is willing to listen, grow, and learn. A humble leader is open to the best ideas and wisely chooses ones that will create growth, but also possess the ability to transparently explain why others won’t. This humble leader might not be the star of the show, but with deliberate behind-the-scenes actions, will turn their company into one that harnesses the collective power of many and releases it for the greater good. 

Take-away

Developing into a humble leader who welcomes feedback, distributes power, and becomes an equal part of the team will transform the work environment. New energy will emerge and spread, growing into an undeniable force. This effort takes work and personal growth. Creating a radically different work culture takes time and guidance. 

As a leadership keynote speaker, I help guide organizations toward better leadership practices and team dynamics. Humility is a core principle of that direction. If you are interested in having me help your team move toward success, through humility and other core principles of leadership, please get in touch today.

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