Every person, every leader and every organization has blind spots. No one gets a pass on this. We are blind to these things because, well, we don’t see them! The only way we’ll discover the blind spots is to create a culture and regular systems that give us feedback. The fact is that others see problems in us or in our organization long before we do. However, for the majority of people, feedback is hard to give unless there are safe ways to give it and a culture that truly values the input.
Really good and consistent feedback is rare in any church, business or organization. Yes, fast food restaurants, hotels, and other businesses regularly ask us to fill out surveys, but none of us really believe that our feedback will make any real difference. We just want the free taco or hamburger for taking the time to fill the survey out.
I believe feedback is vital to become and remain a great leader and to lead a healthy organization. Receiving good, helpful, and consistent feedback requires both a culture that values that and has systems to actually allow it to happen. I can’t repeat that enough! I believe it takes intentional effort to create a culture of feedback in our organizations.
For example, we utilize a teaching team at our church. This team isn’t just a pool of people who can teach, but it is a team that evaluates and gives feedback to the person who teaches the “sermon” on a given Sunday. The teacher gets feedback for their written message two weeks out. Then after making adjustments, they get more feedback early in the week before the message is delivered. Then a few days before that actual teaching is given, they do a live run through with the team and get more feedback. That’s three times! Finally, the week after they gave the message, the team gives a final evaluation. That’s a lot of feedback, and it is invaluable. I believe I am doing my best teaching because of the great feedback I get from this group. I will never preach without this valuable feedback. We are all so much better because of it.
Recently, we’ve added some new teachers to our teaching team. The process was very challenging and intimidating for these “newbies” at first. However, just a few months into the process, each will tell you that they too would never want to take on the responsibility of teaching without a well-developed feedback process.
We intentionally seek feedback in other ways, too. After folks who are new hires to our church do their orientation and have some time to actually work at our church, I do a new hire lunch. I do some sharing of my heart regarding our vision, but I spend most of the time asking them for feedback. I tell them they have fresh eyes and will see things that those of us who have been here a while just don’t see. I let them know that I know I (we) have blind spots. They might see things that seem to be inconsistent with our values, beliefs or purpose. So I ask them for feedback in terms of what they like and appreciate as well as what or how we might make improvements. Not only is the feedback valuable, but it also lets them know that I, as the senior leader, want feedback. It’s another way to introduce them to our culture of feedback.
We also gather the appropriate folks to evaluate and give feedback after every big event. We record it so we can review what we learned before we plan that event again. Every other year, I do an anonymous online 360 review that the staff and board of elders do of me. The results and the open-ended comments have been invaluable to help me continue to grow as a leader. These are just a few of the components of our feedback system.
It takes years of consistent effort to create a culture of feedback. It starts with the leader – the CEO, the “boss,” the lead pastor or whoever has ultimate oversight of the company, church or group. That person has to authentically model the desire for feedback. Here’s what that means for me: I have to listen way more than I talk! I have to ask for feedback and not assume people will give it. When I get it, others have to see that I not only listen to but act on the feedback. If I don’t acknowledge and act on feedback, no one will ever really believe I want it. True humility has to be in place to want, listen to and accept feedback. Then you have to create ways and systems to actually get feedback at all levels of your organization. It takes time but it is so worth it.
All of us want to grow and learn to give feedback well. It’s both an art and a science (meaning we can learn some proven skills). More important than that, the feedback has to be received well. I highly recommend the book – Thanks for the Feedback – The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Stone and Heen. They share how one can receive badly timed, poorly delivered or even hurtful feedback well. If you want to create a culture of feedback, as a leader, you have to learn to receive it well in addition to giving it well.
Where do you start? Start by asking for feedback – for you and for your organization. Then really listen and act on it. Look for ways to create a safe culture for feedback. Reward those who give feedback (people repeat what’s rewarded)! For yourself, keep looking for your own blind spots. You may have to ask and you might need professional help. Once my mentor told me he was going to go to a counselor. I asked what issue he was concerned about. He said he didn’t have any that he knew of and that was his concern. He was going to try to discover some of his blind spots! A few years ago I was stuck and knew I had a blind spot that was hindering me from being an effective leader. I went for intensive counseling and spiritual direction. It was the best week and money I’ve spent on myself!
How often do you seek feedback? Do you have a culture that accepts and gives feedback regularly? Is feedback important to you and your organization? How you answer these questions will correlate or parallel your own health as a leader and that of those you lead.