Feedback is Natural, Design it in

Enjoy a day of observing nature and you will see that it is full of feedback loops. If a system is whole, it naturally has feedback loops.

Some of these feedback loops happen immediately and others happen over hundreds or even thousands of years.

A fairly immediate feedback loop that occurs in nature in a temperate climate is when the outside temperature cools considerably and the deciduous trees respond by dropping their leaves.

A feedback loop that takes a little longer to become apparent is the daily mid-afternoon sweet snack that starts to show up around your midriff. Or inversely, the morning run that over time brings about a number of physical benefits including stamina and strength.

A butterfly pollinates an apple flower and with the input of nutrients from the soil, rain and heat and light from the sun the flower transforms itself into an apple. When you’re munching on that delicious juicy apple, you are eating the feedback that the butterfly’s pollinating worked.

The melting of the Arctic ice is a human caused feedback loop that has developed over decades. This melting, along with other forms of feedback, has alerted us to the fact that the overall temperature on Earth has increased. This makes it much harder for humans and all other living species to exist on Earth in the way we’ve been used to.

We tend to shy away from feedback, yet it is a powerful way to grow our leadership and make sure we are truly coming from a place of service to our community, rather than our own agendas.

Yes, feedback can be hard to hear at times. However, as leaders we put ourselves in a place of receiving feedback whether we want it or not. Why not design it in? We are part of nature, it’s natural to include feedback as part of what we do and who we are. And we can practice being open and staying curious, no matter what comes at us.

There are many ways you can introduce feedback into your leadership learning to make sure you’re serving your community. I offer six suggestions:

  1. Decide what leadership capacity you want to grow and become more confident in. Take action in those areas, and generate a few feedback questions you can ask people on their experience of you developing that capacity. The questions can be as simple as “What did I do well? What could I do differently next time?”

  2. After completing a presentation, use five minutes at the very end of the presentation and ask for three people in the audience to give you feedback, right there in front of everyone else. I attended an event where the presenter did this. I thought he was courageous. He received three highly useful pieces of feedback that he could immediately implement to improve his presentation and make sure he was reaching people with his message.

  3. In a collaborative project design feedback into your system. For example, I recently co-lead an afternoon event with a new co-lead. We did a great job, and twenty minutes of debrief a few days later gave me insights on what worked for her and what I could do differently next time. I can then choose to absorb this feedback to make the way I collaborate even better.

  4. Design your feedback by asking a few simple questions. I’m currently part of a team that’s engaged in introducing a new form of governance and decision-making into an organization. We asked the people who participated in consultations that introduced them to these governance tools to give us written feedback to four simple questions. For some of our respondees it was easy. For others the questions elicited long responses. Add a word count so people know what you’re looking for. Written feedback creates work. How much extra work do you want to create for yourself and others?

  5. If you feel moved to give someone feedback who hasn’t asked for it, check in with them first to see if it would be useful. Recently I was asked if I wanted feedback on something and I was able to say “not right now”. I chose to do that, because at the stage I was at in the project the feedback wouldn’t have served me. I know I can and will go back to this person at some point in the future, when I’m ready for their contribution.

  6. Don’t take it personally. Ask for the feedback and listen to what the person is telling you. Feedback is just someone else’s opinion, and that opinion could be showing you something that’s in your leadership blind spot. The feedback may not be about your leadership, it may be about the thing you’re passionate about. Still, don’t take it personally,

We are nature. Feedback is a natural part of our system that helps us grow our leadership, especially when we realize we don’t need to take it personally. It’s just information that we can use to correct our course and make richer connections.

Do you shy away from feedback? Have you designed it into your ‘system’? How have you benefitted by being open to receive feedback?

Create a feedback loop. Leave a comment below and join the conversation.

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