Based on the responses of executives interviewed for the Dec. 28 issue of USA Today, there are several secrets, not just one.  Here are three of the featured secrets:

  1. “If you don’t really enjoy what you are doing, you will never have the passion necessary for long-term success. (Aramark CEO)
  2. “Listen to customers.   If you ask, they will tell you exactly what to do.’” (Cisco Systems CEO)
  3. “It’s easy to get a bit insulated at the top, so you have to pursue honest feedback, even to the point of being uncomfortable.” (State Farm Insurance CEO)

I agree with all three but want to comment particularly on the third.  To say that it’s easy to get insulated at the top is a major understatement. Few employees, even those closest to the boss, are willing/able to tell the whole truth when it comes to the boss’s weaknesses. All leaders need to pursue honest feedback but in order to get it, there are some prerequisites.

The individual seeking feedback must really want it. If you’re asking so that someone will tell you how wonderful you are, that’s probably exactly what you’ll get — a big fat zero in terms of learning anything about yourself.  And, you need to be prepared to receive feedback without defensiveness. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel defensive, but you’d better learn to act like you aren’t, or that will be the end of any truthful feedback you will hear.  And, finally, you need to act on the feedback.  No one is interested in sticking their neck out, only to be ignored and have the same bad habits continue.

The art of receiving and acting on accurate negative feedback is just that, an art. But there is also some science involved, i.e., your brain chemistry. Understanding your triggers, and figuring out how to anticipate and deal with them in advance, can prevent your emotions from running the show. Accurate, caring feedback is a gift. Treat it accordingly, thank the giver and handle with care. If you handle it right, it can become the gift that keeps on giving—to your improved performance.