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.

Asking for and receiving Feedback for Leaders
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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.

When Your Team Says You Suck - How to Get, Give, and Use Feedback for Leaders
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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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17 thoughts on “Feedback for Leaders

  1. Kevin O'Donnell says:

    Wow Matt. This is another incredibly open post. Thank you for sharing so much of your failings and lessons.

    Feedback is so

  2. Kevin O'Donnell says:

    Oops. Submitted too soon.

    Feedback is so important. It’s brutal sometimes but must be asked for.

    I like the idea of tackling one at a time. Then it’s not overwhelming. And like you said, if you knock out 2 or 3 of them, it builds momentum. That can apply to any area of life.

    Thanks Matt!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Thanks Kevin. I’ve learned that is the key to any multi-step change. I get overwhelmed sometimes thinking I have to do 4 things to be a better boss/husband/dad and it demoralizes me. But when I think that if I only do one, I am already better, that helps!

  3. Jeremy Carver says:

    True dat, Matt. True dat. (Are the kids saying “true dat” anymore?)
    Truth feedback when you suck is dangerous to those who aren’t ready for it. How you moved in a positive direction from it proves that you were. Kudos, you’re a 5%er! (My made up statistical reference to individuals who actually turn from the dark side when confronted with the knowledge that they suck. I’m pretty sure it’s 50% accurate.) Anyways, I guess you would rate that “I Suck Realization” as one of the top 5 things to have ever happened to you, right? I know my “I Suck Realization” was a top 5 for me. 1. My Creation, 2. Salvation, 3. Wife, 4. Child, … 5. Realization that I sucked and was not who I needed to BE.
    Great action plan too, Matt!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Are the kids saying “true dat” anymore?


      At first I thought “5%er” was like the comic book cussing. Caught me off guard 🙂

      I might rate it #3 because without it would have never come: wife, child, current business…

      Thanks Jeremy!

      1. Jeremy Carver says:

        Funny. I can see how one might make that first glance knee jerk. I never use numbers, symbols, or characters as clever swear concealing tactics on Wednesdays. You’re safe.

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        OK just make sure to come back the other days just in case 🙂

  4. Carol Dublin says:

    Love the idea of tackling it one thing at a time – you were brave to ask for honest feedback like that, but even more brave to work so hard to change. Nice to see such a success story!

    I’m trying to get better at giving feedback because I tend to try not to hurt feelings and that just doesn’t work if something needs to be fixed. Great post, Matt!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Thanks Carol.

      It helps to remember that “success story” doesn’t mean completed story! So much more to do and so far to go…it’s a journey…and a fun one at that!

      1. Carol Dublin says:

        Yes it’s a journey – and so glad you can say it’s fun!

  5. Jon Stolpe says:

    We try to meet with our department in smaller groups to get feedback on how we could do things better. I think the next step for me is to make this more individual.

  6. jryan2445 says:

    Wow nice job. So important when managers: 1, admitting to what they suck at; 2, modeling being kind and forgiving to themselves; 3, work on sucking less; and 4, identify what they are good at.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      #1 is the hardest by far.

      Come to think of it, #2, #3, and #4 are pretty difficult too.

  7. Chance Smith says:

    Great point on accountability You can not be accountable to others and keep them accountable in the same day. It is not a one step over a line and then your done. Just like you did here. You had to practice what you were going to preach.

    I have tried to pull for these types of answers but all I get are niceties. I want the truth baby! Gimme! You said you were a hot head. How did you get a honest response if there was any apprehension or intimidation?

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I didn’t push it. But…the best feedback I got was completely anonymous. I made sure they knew that. I sent the form to about 10 people and they could type in it so I could not tell handwriting. I offered for them to give written feedback (i.e. open ended questions) but not too much that they would fear I know their style.

      Then they mailed the forms from the office to me at the office.

  8. Bob Winchester says:

    Love this! Sorry I missed it the first time around!

    Not many leaders do something like this, but in my opinion it’s the only way to know for sure!

    I would love to see the actual survey you used to get this kind of insight. Any chance I missed that post too?

    Congrats on being in the Frontline Festival yesterday. So much good content in one post…pretty cool!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I don’t have it unfortunately.

      That being said, I pieced it together from resources I found online back in 2007-2008. You can do the same.

      Just look up things like:

      “360 evaluation questions”

      And you will find a ton of resources. Then piece it together yourself.

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