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Friends don’t let friends lead with blind spots

Guest Blogger Julie Wilson shares:

Do you remember the “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” campaign of the 80’s? This is common sense, but if you’ve ever been with an intoxicated person you know how hard it is to get the keys away and deal with the fallout.

There is a similar campaign needed for leadership that could read, “Friends don’t let friends lead with blind spots.” How many teams and missions have been derailed by unknown, undealt with blind spots of the leaders?

The Arbinger Institute looks at the problem in their book Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box

“Self-deception is like this. It blinds us to the true causes of problems, and once we’re blind, all the “solutions” we can think of will actually make matters worse. Whether at work or at home, self-deception obscures the truth about ourselves, corrupts our view of others and our circumstances, and inhibits our ability to make wise and helpful decisions.”

So how do we become seeing-eye leaders? I wish it was as easy, but leadership is a journey and knowing your own strengths and weakness is the beginning. One of the best tools to lead with clarity is learning to give and receive feedback with humility and compassion.

The first step in giving good feedback is learning to receive feedback yourself. There is no formula, but below are some suggested steps to guide your journey.

Receiving Feedback

Step One — Prepare

Let others know you are open to feedback and will purpose to receive it well. As the leader, you may have to say this a few times as people may doubt your sincerity or may have had bad experiences in the past. You will need to make it safe to share and assure your team there will not be retribution.

It is also helpful to prepare your heart before receiving the feedback.

Tell yourself that you are about to get the gift of feedback and tell your brain to listen and resist being defensive. It doesn’t mean you always agree with what is shared, but you have the opportunity to learn and you may just find you needed to hear what is shared.

Step Two — Listen Openly

Purpose to hear what is being said. Be curious if you don’t understand you can ask clarifying questions. Thinks like “I’m curious what you experienced, I’m wondering if you could give me an example, can you help me understand how my actions impacted you.”

Repeat what you hear them saying. Just because you are listening does not mean you are agreeing. It is important to signal back that you hear what is being said so they know you understand. Try to articulate what you are hearing so the one giving feedback knows they are being heard. Again, you may or may not agree at this point you are just actively listening.

**Resist giving them feedback about anything if possible. For the relationship to grow there must be hearing first. You can give them feedback at another time.

Step Three — Resist the natural temptation to defend yourself.

Take a minute to remind yourself that feedback is your friend. Even if the feedback is off somehow, the health of the relationship will improve if your first response is open listening.

Step Four — Decide how to respond.

Giving feedback takes courage. Make your aim to create safety for the person who takes the risk to give you the feedback.

Possible responses:

I don’t know if I agree

· Thank you for this feedback, I need some time to process and I will follow up.

I agree there is something, but I am not clear yet on what is mine to own.

· This is hard feedback to hear. I am feeling _________ (exposed, embarrassed, misunderstood, sad, triggered, grateful you were willing to share but confused, convicted).

I see what you are saying and I was wrong

· I am sorry for __________(name the behavior, keep it to your part and resist making it about anything they have done even if you have something that hurt you. Address this in a future conversation once you’ve dealt with the feedback directed at you. Own what you can own and if they are not satisfied you can request time to think.

So now that you are open to receiving feedback and understand how difficult it can be you can practice giving feedback.

Below is a framework that can help guide you as you help others receive the gift of feedback.

Giving Feedback

Step one — Ask for permission

It is respectful and helpful to request permission to share feedback. Even if you are in authority over someone who has to take your feedback, requesting permission prioritizes the relationship over your position as the motivation and gives dignity to the one receiving the feedback.

Step Two — Remember the A,B,C’s of feedback (These are from Executive Coach Lori Dernavech


What positive outcome do you hope you hope to achieve by giving this feedback? Examples: I have some feedback to share and what I’d really like is our team to thrive and be a place where everyone feels valued.


What behavior is problematic? Clearly articulate what is not working in the relationship. If there is a pattern you can give more than one example. If the receiver starts to get into the weeds of the specific, invite them back to the bigger problem by restating it and resist getting into the details of the examples. Example: When you show up late for meetings it communicates that you don’t value the time of others on the team.


What is the consequence of this behavior on the relationship?

When you/I experience

State the problem again and add the consequence. Example: “As a result of your being late we have to take time to bring you up to speed that we could be spending on other important items. This doesn’t value the time of the others on the call.”

A—Go back to the AIM

Wrap up by repeating the aim and hope for how things could be if the feedback is received and give space for them to process, ask question and respond. Example: “What I know we both want is for our team to flourish and everyone to feel valued.”

Step Three — Release and forgive; set up steps to a better future

There are at least two ways for someone to respond to the feedback.

They own the feedback and process with you.

• Hopefully they ask for forgiveness or apologize. Remember people apologize in different ways so listen deeply and give grace if they aren’t saying exactly what you think they should. If you hear ownership accept their apology and forgive. Say thank you for their response and restate that you forgive them for the specific offense.

• You may want to reaffirm your commitment to their growth and offer to support them in ways that would be helpful. For repeat offenders setting up consequences if the behavior continues may also be helpful.

They don’t own the feedback

• As the leader you will now have a different decision to make and each situation will require a different next step. That said, being willing to give direct feedback in a way that invites growth will surface the heart of your teammate and will help you, help them grow or not.

Remember, friends don’t let friends lead with blind spots. Giving and receiving feedback is a tool that helps both the leader and the team around them flourish and grow.

About the Author:

For the past 25 years, Julie has been a visionary strategist and communication specialist. After graduating with a degree in journalism from Boston University, she landed the highly competitive job as an NBC Page in New York City, the same year she became a follower of Christ through the ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. She spent 13 years as a start-up team builder with Priority Associates, mostly in New York City, and most recently was VP of Communication and served on the executive leadership team for Generous Giving. Today, as President of Women Doing Well, she leads a team to activate generosity in women of influence. Julie and her husband, Gary, live in Richmond, Virginia, with their daughter, Ella.


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