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.

In observing really good leaders, one of the traits that is almost always present is great self-awareness. Here’s why self-awareness is important in leadership: We need to continually become aware of ourselves so that what we don’t know doesn’t hurt others and damage our ability to lead well. The fact is we all have blind spots and a blind spot can damage our influence and hurt those we are trying to lead.

Years ago my mentor told me he was going to go to counseling. I asked him what problem or challenge he was facing. He said he didn’t know. I was confused and kept pressing him what the “issue” was. He said he didn’t know of anything that was wrong. But it was what he didn’t know that he was concerned about. He went to counseling to discover his blind spots.

Good self-awareness allows us to have an accurate view of ourselves. Why is this important and valuable in leadership? As leaders we have influence in the lives of people – that’s what leadership is. Who we are affects how we lead. And all leaders are sinners. All leaders are flawed. All leaders are broken in some way. All leaders have strengths which should be maximized and weaknesses, that if unchecked, can trip them up and hurt those he or she is leading. Self-awareness is essential if we are going to be able to understand ourselves, which affects how well we interact and serve those we are leading. Leaders who are poor at self-awareness hurt people and don’t even know it. Without good self-awareness, we won’t be able to grow and lead better.

Here’s where we start: You have to want to be more self-aware. It doesn’t just happen. I want to be the best leader I can. I don’t want to hurt the people I lead. We have to really look for clues from others that might be telling us there is something not quite right. You have to choose to develop a self-awareness antenna. Frankly, few leaders get past this point. They don’t want to know their flaws, weaknesses, blind spots or the things hiding in the shadows.

We almost never become more aware on our own. We need others to give us feedback. But it isn’t enough to ask for feedback. We actually have to create a culture or an environment where others know we welcome feedback. Folks need to know we really do want to know ourselves better and that we will act on the feedback given to us. So when we ask for feedback, we can’t become defensive or in any way punish the person giving us feedback. Want to become aware of your blind spots or weaknesses? Ask! Others will see things long before you will. Over the years I’ve learned that I can even learn things in poorly delivered feedback. Even “bad” feedback likely has a kernel of truth in it.

Most of our blind spots are connected to our past. We bury stuff. We cover over the pain. We are good at the denial project. There is stuff that lurks in the shadow that we are not fully aware of. The “shadow” is most dangerous to our personhood and leadership. The past and things that are in the shadow has a way of living in the present, especially without good self-awareness. Past events and our conclusions about those past events become triggers in our present and we as well as those we lead are surprised by what shows up or erupts. We almost always need help, often professional help, to discover and unpack the stuff in the shadows.

There’s a another aspect to self-awareness. We all sin and there are things we are more likely to be tempted by. No one is exempt from powerful temptations. Good self-awareness notices when the conditions in or around us are forming where we might be more vulnerable to temptation. Things like tiredness, certain toxic personalities, or various kinds of stressors might make us more likely to give into temptation and sin. Self-awareness learns to recognize the danger zones so we can make more positive choices.

How do you start? Spend some honest time with God asking him to prepare your heart to be open to feedback. Then ask some trusted friends, other than your spouse, to give you feedback. Pick a specific area or let it be general. Start on surface level or go deeper. This is invaluable to living well and leading well. The more self-aware we become, the more God can shape and mold us to be more like Jesus and lead like Jesus.