To hit the mark

How many times have you heard these words? “Don’t take it personally.”  “It’s not about you…” “You’re getting defensive again.”

Probably true most of the time.

But what if the feedback, comment, crack is not only directed at you but totally about you–and accurate? Now what?

Well the first is shut up and listen. Sometimes you can learn a lot. Take the situation I was in several years ago. Brand new CEO 3rd day on the job. Staff who had been there 20, 30, 40 years. I arrived early one morning to find the phones ringing off the hook. This was an agency that was supposed to be serving desperate people in need of help. I answered the first call, then a second one buzzed and a third. There was absolutely no way I could respond to the intense demand.

When the first staff member arrived—my second in command, exactly on time, I lost it. How can you run a place that doesn’t respond to people in crisis? Why don’t we have a set up to handle these calls. What kind of an outfit is this…” and on and on.

The seasoned woman looked me up and down (she had applied for my job and lost) and said quietly, “Who died and made you Queen?” and went to her office.

Now that was personal, really personal. And I had it coming—and more. Few have had the courage to give me any feedback even close to that. “Imperious” is way too mild a term to describe my inexcusable behavior. As I quickly learned, the people employed by this organization barely made enough money to feed their families. Their dedication and devotion was beyond the wildest dreams of most organizations. And they didn’t have enough funds to pay for a janitor so the employees cleaned the place.

Have someone available to answer calls at 6 am which was the time I arrived? Not even thinkable. This agency was lucky to have any staff at all. And as I also learned, the work they put out was beyond extraordinary.

So how can you/we know when negative feedback is not only personal but right on target—and something we should be on our knees grateful that someone had the courage to deliver it?

Probably more often than we want to admit.

Being called the Queen was hardly a compliment. But I’m not sure I would have understood it any other way. My behavior after that moment, changed dramatically. At her retirement 8 years later, my colleague who labeled me a Queen, said that she had never experienced such royal leadership—a priceless compliment.