7 Ways a Leader Can Invite Constructive Feedback

by Ron Edmondson

I remember an especially hard year as a leader. It was so bad several members of our staff had told me where I was letting them down. So much for having an “open door policy”. The next year I closed the door. 

Not really, but this was a year where staff members said to me, “I have a problem with you.” They may not have used those exact words, but the point was clear – I can be an idiot at times. There were significant areas where I needed to improve. Thankfully I haven’t had many of those years, but I’m glad now I had the ones I have. 

There is room for improvement with any leader and maturing leaders welcome instruction from the people they are trying to lead.

I realize some would question me for allowing such correction, but most of the time when I’ve been corrected by someone I’m supposed to lead, I deserved it. Plus, anytime an associate is brave enough to rebuke an employer, you can be assured he or she is either:

- Desperate and willing to do anything.

- Ignorant or doesn’t care.

- Feels welcome to do so.

In my opinion, good leaders work to live within the third option. I hope this was the case in my situation.

I should say – because I know some are thinking – criticism comes easily to leaders. Do anything at all in leadership and someone will have a problem with it – and they won’t always be kind in how they voice their complaint. But, I’m not talking about this type criticism. I am referring to constructive feedback from people I care about and who respect me. We all need that at times.

Here are 7 ways I welcome correction from the people I lead:

An open door.

This is more than keeping the door to my office open. I try to make my schedule available to the people I lead. The person who keeps my calendar always knows people on staff get in first if something needs to be scheduled. And, if I’m in the office, my door is “open” – they can walk in anytime. In addition, my team knows I consider responsiveness to be of the highest value.

Include others in decision making.

If a decision affects more people than me, then I want more people helping to make the decision. This is true even if it’s a natural decision for me to make. The more I include people in the decision-making, the more likely they are to want to follow the decisions made. In fact, I seldom make decisions alone.

Ask for it.

Consistently, throughout the year, I ask people to tell me what they think. I ask lots of questions. I solicit opinions on almost every major decision I make. It’s a risky move, because many will, but it’s invaluable insight. And, the more you ask, the more freedom people feel in sharing.

Admit mistakes.

It’s important that I recognize when decisions made are my fault. People feel more comfortable approaching a leader who doesn’t feel they are always right.

Take personal responsibility.

In addition to admitting fault, I must own my share of projects and responsibility. The team needs to know that I’m on their side and in their corner. When they are criticized I own the criticism with them. I have their back. (By the way – this is only learned by experience.)

Model it.

It’s one thing to say I welcome correction, but when correction comes, I must model receiving it well. If I overreact when correction comes, I’ll limit the times I receive it. If I chooser retribution, I’ve shut further feedback off before it comes.

Trade it.

The best way to get your team to offer healthy correction of the leader is to create a relationship with your team where there is mutual constructive feedback. The goal is not for the leader to receive all the correction. The goal is for correction to be applied where correction is needed.

I should also say all these are still not enough. Constructive criticism from people who care about you and want your best – especially from people you lead – only develops over time as trust is developed. They have to trust you and you have to trust them. 

Receiving correction – or constructive feedback – is difficult for anyone, perhaps seemingly unnatural for most leaders. I believe, however, when a leader is open to correction from his or her team, the team will be more willing to follow the leader wherever he or she goes.