How To Avoid Being a Stupid Leader – Receiving Feedback From Those You Lead

Feb 6, 2024, Written by Jim Miley

receiving feedback as a leader

Managing our business and employees requires us to receive feedback well, so how well do you receive feedback, correction, or reproof?

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”
Prov 12:1 

I read a commentary from Paul Downing on Proverbs 12:1 that I found convincing in a good way.  You can read the entire post here.

“The truth is that we rarely learn anything apart from discipline or correction. In fact, the Hebrew word translated “discipline” here literally means, “correction that results in education.”

It’s the idea of being trained by a parent or coach or even a drill sergeant.

This reminds me of Cherie Carter-Scott’s “Rules for Being Human”:

  • Rule 1: You will learn lessons.
  • Rule 2: There are no mistakes – only lessons.
  • Rule 3: A lesson is repeated until it’s learned.
  • Rule 4: If you don’t learn the easy lessons, they get harder.
  • Rule 5: You’ll know you’ve learned a lesson when your actions change.”

I know how important it is to work on receiving feedback well from my own hard-headed experience.  I have tested Rule 3 from the above excerpt to prove its validity beyond a shadow of a doubt. 

Receiving Feedback as a Business Leader

For any of us to effectively manage our staff or even our business overall, we must be effective at receiving feedback from those we lead. Are you good at accepting “reproof” from people on your team?

The biggest challenge for many of us in receiving feedback, discipline, correction, reproof, or whatever other form comes along is our unlimited capacity and willingness to discount the source. We may nod in appreciation while their voice drones on, but too often, the voice in our head is a little louder with, “I hear what you’re saying, but you don’t really understand my situation,” or “It doesn’t seem like your place to give me advice.” We just wait for the noise to stop so we can make a smooth deflection or change the subject.  

Resistance to “reproof” is often incredibly high when the correction comes from a subordinate in your organization.  

In my experience, it’s not that I don’t want feedback; I do. But feedback, correction, or reproof has often come from a message I needed to deliver. Go figure; our outward communication is the catalyst for feedback.  

As a business leader, you will deliver many necessary messages over your career, many of which will be to the uncomfortable side of the conversation. You must correct, discipline, reprove, and coach people, or you’re not doing your job. Sometimes, your coaching will prompt the person being coached to share some feedback you were not prepared to receive. 

Do you discount the feedback because it follows your message of correction? Don’t do that.  

“Correction that results in education” is good for us in all its forms. We improve our competence and ability to lead others well when we are more educated about our environment, including our employees.  

Knowing how our employees feel is valuable information and may result in “correction” to what we believe to be true, “leading to education,” which improves our understanding. Even if the feedback results from our employee acting out of defense, it may still be important and valuable to you and the employee. To not listen carefully would be “stupid.”   

Maintaining the distinction between your message and the feedback in response is often necessary and helpful. Leaders need to lead and communicate clearly, which is one of the most essential elements of good leadership. If your communication stimulates feedback from the recipient of your message, recognize the potential value of that information and intentionally create the opportunity to hear it. It can be as simple as a polite commitment to allow time for the other party to voice their views.  

The point of this post is that you should recognize the value of feedback, correction, and reproof in all its forms and receive it well.  

Receiving Feedback In The Home

What about leadership in your household? It is so common that it’s cliché for a spouse to resist advice from their loved one on a given issue until they hear it from an outside source. Why do we do that?  

The same is often true when our children respond to our guidance. Whether feedback, correction, or reproof comes from a spouse, a child, or a sibling, we may need to hear it. It is also a fact that we won’t hear it if we don’t listen. Choose to listen regardless of the source and the situation.  

The same rules apply in the workplace. You can maintain the distinction between messaging vital for you to deliver and feedback from others. Take advantage of the opportunity to hear what others say because you discount their message before you even listen.  

It is often the same root issue as receiving employee feedback; we have thoughts we want to convey, so we discount any counter-messaging. Don’t do that.  

Someone providing information in the form of feedback, reproof, or correction does not necessarily negate the message we want to convey, and that is our problem. “I have something to say, and you are trying to muddy the water, so I can’t deliver my message.”

Discounting the value of feedback from others because the timing could be better is a lack of discipline on our part as leaders. 

You have to be disciplined with listening. Whether in the workplace or the home, there are often obstacles to receiving feedback, reproof, or discipline. But if we allow those obstacles to hinder our willingness to hear, we also lose the education that comes from hearing; we make ourselves stupid leaders.  

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Jim Miley

As a Business Coach, Jim brings a broad background of operational and sales management skills and expertise to help small business owners grow their business and reach their highest potential. He has 30 years of field-proven professional experience.

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