When Your Team Says You Suck | Leadership Feedback

As a leader, have you ever been punched in the gut by feedback from your team?

I have. And I am much better for it.

Feedback for Leaders

Leaders must get consistent feedback from their team members and peers…and they must act on it. (Tweet That)

I wrote about this almost a year ago and chronicled my transformation as a leader. The interesting thing is that I still struggle with all but one area that I did seven years ago.

Feedback and improvement is not a one-time thing. It’s not a six month process. It’s a lifelong commitment, come hell or high water, that you will get better every day as a leader.

That being said, you must start. Here is how I started and you can, too.

Feedback for Leaders (Or…You Suck. Sincerely, Your Team)

Leaders must get consistent feedback from their team members and peers…and they must act on it.

The first time I asked for feedback, it really sucked. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I thought maybe I should just walk away from the company that I had helped build. I didn’t see a way out of the hole I had dug. There was no light at the end of the tunnel for me.

I gave my team and peers an anonymous evaluation form, encouraged them to be honest and then spent two days being hurt, angry, and in denial, Then I put on my big boy pants and decided to take each fault, each area of improvement, and order them based on two things:

  1. How bad I was (based on average score of the feedback). The lower my score, the worse I was.
  2. How quickly I thought I could improve.

I got a mentor, read voraciously and developed an action plan based on improving these areas of weakness.

I focused on only one area of improvement each month and listed seven core areas of improvement. In seven months, I figured I would be a completely different leader. I also figured that within only a few months I would be a decent enough leader that people would start to notice the changes I had made. Within six months, I thought, I would start to develop trust with my team and peers. Within one year, I would actually be able to lead effectively.

Here were the seven areas I chose to improve upon in order:

  1. Leading by example by arriving to work early and staying until at least 5:00 pm. This was the easiest change. It required no major life changes or learning. It only required that I show up by 8:15 every day and stay until at least 5:00. That meant I was there 15 minutes before my team arrived and left at the same time or slightly after they did. For one month, I did just that with no exceptions. After a month, I had the flexibility to get a mid-day long lunch if needed or leave early for the dentist, but for one month I did not. I built momentum for the next change as well.
  2. Humility. I truly thought everyone else’s ideas sucked and mine were awesome. See #4 in my post on how to make a team member cry.
  3. Active encouragement. This meant really looking for positive performance and actions and rewarding it.
  4. Controlling emotions, particularly anger. I was known as a hothead. I had to keep this in check. This was the hardest for me but I fought through it. I took two months to get to the point where I felt like I could move on to the fifth one.
  5. Being positive. Think of me prior to the feedback as Eeyore with a temper. There wasn’t a cloud I couldn’t find in someone’s silver lining.
  6. Being available and open and being transparent. I had developed a closed-door policy essentially. I had to actively make myself more available. This was made much easier by actually being there physically (point #1)
  7. Holding people accountable. This had to come last because I had to be in a positive position to do this.

After 3 months I was working the right hours, I was more humble and open to others opinions, and was actively encouraging my team. The results were already astounding.

By the eight month mark, life had changed. By the end of a year, I read the reviews and realized that I had succeeded in 6/7 areas. I continued to struggle with holding people accountable well into my next leadership position.

If you want to be a better leader, the first step is getting feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. You must ask for it. Then you must make a plan to improve and start improving. Your areas of improvement will differ from mine, but the method of discovering, assessing, and improving is the same if you want to succeed.

Have you asked or been asked for feedback? What were the results?

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  • Ali Anani

    Matt. What a lovely post!. I surely concur with your seven points pointer. They are spot on. being positive is a very important issue. We tend to narrow our options by having negative mindsets.

    Tim, my presentation “new Metaphors for Teams” is the presentation of the day on slideshare today. I would love your opinion of the presentation. It adds some ideas to your presentation and fosters others.

    http://www.slideshare.net/hudali15/new-metaphors-for-teams

  • Yes. A couple years ago, I went through a 360° Feedback which was helpful in giving me positive and constructive feedback.

    More recently, I utilize the regular one-on-one meetings with my boss and my direct reports to get feedback. I always finish the meeting by asking them how I can help them and if there’s something I need to do differently or better to help them succeed.

    • I love that you asked for a one-on-one Jon. That is huge. Did you get that from me? Haha.

      How receptive was your team? And your boss?

      • I get all my great stuff from you, Matt! :)

        Actually, it’s something I’ve been contemplating for a while. I’m not quite to your level with weekly one-on-one meetings, but the monthly meetings have gone quite well. The response from my team and my boss has been fantastic.

        • That is awesome. Monthly is great and if you have been consistent with them for a year you can try bimonthly…I am actually leaning towards thinking those are best myself.

  • Dude, so applicable to me right now!
    I just visited with the heads of my department to get feed back on my interviewing process. It was awesome. And the sad thing is, they said that no one had ever asked to do that before!
    Feedback is so vital in our lives. And lets be honest, its easier so ask for it, and get some bad feedback, than to have it just show up at your door unexpected. Sure it still sucks, but at least you could kind of mentally prepare for it!!
    Great post Matt. I think your list is an example of the power of simply deciding to change! It’s the most important part, just being intentional about getting better!
    Thanks for sharing! Great post!

    • So true Mark.

      Asking is by far the scariest part…because I knew I sucked. I just wasn’t sure of how.

  • Katherine Leicester

    Great post, Matt, and as usually happens it rings true with me because we struggle with some of the same counterproductive behaviors (a long way of saying “we can act like a jerk really really easy!”)
    I remember the first (and only) time one of my staff members filed a union grievance against me. I cried all the way home that day. It was awful. I felt so *betrayed*. “Why couldn’t you just have come talk to me!” I railed. Well, because I was a jerk that no one wanted to talk to, that’s why.
    I think I’ve gotten better, but it seems like I go two steps forward and one step backward.

    • Wow. That is such an amazing revelation you had.

      How did you use that to improve?

      • Katherine Leicester

        I was able to gather my team to devote time to something they cared passionately about and had been discouraged from doing. The leadership there was very adversarial, so I thought that if I put my reputation with my supervisors at risk–by working with the team–the team might trust that I had their best interests at heart, and the team’s best interests at heart. We worked together to accomplish our first team goal, and after that I’d developed the relationships with the team members to the extent that we could all be honest with each other. We had a lot of fun the rest of my time there.

        Before that grievance I would have addressed the union thing head on, pushed my way through to a “win,” and crushed that team member’s spirit. (I’m a D-personality style so this is easy for me).

  • I’m about to start a 360 process with all the Senior Leaders and I will forward them this post.

    • That is cool Jim. I’d love to hear some of the highlights that come from it.

  • Lulu

    Folks are always afraid of feedback, but shouldn’t be. It is a mirror. It is a learning tool. And the better you get, the better and more affirming the feedback gets. I really believe the more you use feedback the more it promotes teamwork. If one makes changes based on a suggestion – then others feel listened to.

    • Powerful point Lulu:

      “the more you use feedback the more it promotes teamwork”

      You are so right. The more you open yourself to feedback and openly give it to others, the better you work together.

  • Steve Pate

    You and I are singing the same song! A year ago I needed to go through this, but I wouldn’t call it being punched in the gut it was more like being kicked in the groin! And then when I was down gasping for air, a swift kick in the butt happened. Through that I found my self reading more, listening to awesome pod cast and reading great blogs like these to help me grow as a leader! and I can say in a years time, there is a huge difference in my attitude. Great Post!

    • Steve Pate

      Also seeking a mentor and a life coach was a huge step in growing my self too!

      • Yes, yes, yes. Getting a mentor means being willing to hear and accept feedback.

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