In my post of 6/16/08, titled Humility and leadership: five practices to keep us leading from a posture of humility I wrote about the importance of both soliciting and graciously receiving feedback on our leadership so that we can grow, lead more effectively and model an attitude of "nothing to prove and nothing to lose."
The post received an insightful comment:
Thanks for this post! It is very "counter-cultural" to see leadership as servanthood, let alone to cultivate the practice of listening and looking for people who will be honest with their leader. When I have been asked for honest feedback by my leaders re: their leadership, and did so in what I thought was a sensitive way, it was not appreciated. It takes an exceptionally mature person to be able to handle honest feedback! In the future I need to realize that not all requests for honest input are really that, and to reflect on the maturity of the person asking for my input.
What the writer points out is the sad reality that many leaders neither listen well or truly want those they lead to be honest with them. As the writer says, "It takes an exceptionally mature person to be able to handle honest feedback!" He puts his finger on the critical issue. Maturity!
Immature leaders do not solicit feedback. The truth is they don't want it. They have something to prove and a lot to lose and when given unsolicited feedback they react defensively and take it personally. In addition, many immature leaders go further and "write off" or "demonize" those who they perceive to be "critical."
By writing off and choosing not to trust those who offer constructive feedback they isolate themselves from the very people who could help them lead more effectively. Their friendships revolve only around those who agree with them and they send a strong message that if you disagree you will no longer be in "my circle."
Immature leaders will end up as ineffective leaders if they cannot overcome their aversion to honest dialogue and feedback. The end result of this attitude is that staff don't feel able to be honest without running the risk of being marginalized. Once marginalized, they no longer feel part of the team and often will not stay. In far too many cases, staff live in fear of running "afoul" of their leader knowing that the result is not pleasant.
Here is an irony. Staff respect leaders who listen to them and who solicit and receive their feedback and foster honest dialogue. Openness and non-defensiveness build respect. Leaders who do not listen, who do not solicit or graciously receive feedback or foster honest dialogue are not respected.
They may be feared but they are not respected. The very thing they so desperately desire, respect, is secretly withheld from them. They live in a fantasy world, thinking they are wise, respected leaders while the opposite is true. They are neither wise nor respected.
We cannot change others, but we can ensure that we are mature in our leadership. Maturity requires humility and openness. It requires and attitude of "nothing to prove, nothing to lose." In fostering an open environment they build huge loyalty and respect. In being vulnerable they are strong.