The Fight for Feedback

On June 14, I posted a report about a struggling teacher who became an award-winning teacher. She did it through performance assessment and disciplined attention to feedback. Today she teaches her students to learn through feedback and disciplined reflection.

A good friend and an outstanding leader read the post. The message touched a deep chord. In response, he wrote of his passion, service, feedback, and reflection. I find it inspiring. In the message, he describes his basic orientation.

As I thought about that blog post, I reflected on my earliest leadership observations as a young boy accompanying my grandfather to work as he cheerfully interacted with everyone. He intently listened to fellow workers who were having issues—work related, personal, or otherwise. He helped them.

Sometimes the help came in the form of immediate advice or suggestions.  When issues were more complicated, he would reflect on them and seek advice from others—fellow union leaders. Often he did this while delivering bread in Queens and Brooklyn.  He was a recognized leader, respected by workers, union leaders, and managers.   They saw him as a reasonable person who cared about the workforce and came to meetings with good solutions.  He treated everyone the same—with respect and kindness.  He had care and empathy for all.

My father followed and showed the same leadership values.  Because I was older, my father and I could discuss some of the leadership issues he was dealing with.

I didn’t realize it then, but my grandfather and father provided my leadership foundation, and it has served me well throughout my careers: help and care about people, listen, solve problems—even when they seem simple.  In a word: service.

As he initiated a military career, and was exposed to the principles of leadership, the one principle that stood out the most was, “You have to fight for feedback.” You have to fight for it because people do not share it, and it often hurts when you get it.

He tells the story of working for a colonel who oversaw a number of units that had to provide customer service. She mentored him and he “learned how to anticipate customer needs, how to implement real customer service, and how to measure it.” Today he is responsible for a large leadership development program. He has a passion for his mission. He writes:

I am a servant leader to the program. Just like the new teacher in the blog post, I hunger to improve. I deliberately reflect on my actions. I reflect on how I influence the other decision makers and the participants. I read feedback every day during the three-week program to make needed adjustments and address participant needs.  I read feedback after alumni events.  I consolidate the feedback and look for trends. I work with the faculty to make every delivery better than the last. The program continually gets better, and in it, the participants flourish. We create a program of excellence.

To be a leader is to be a shepherd. My job is to take care of people, not only the people in my program, but by extension, the entire workforce, through leader development for senior executives, making them better and more effective.  My ultimate goal is to make the entire organization a better place through service and reflection.

This is an orientation to higher purpose, to service, and to learning. It is not easy. It requires fighting for feedback and commitment to growth. I learned it from my grandfather, from my father, and from my experience. I believe we can all learn how to serve and how to fight for feedback. It is my passion. My goal is to spread passion. It is not easy, but it is deeply satisfying.

The professor in the June 14th blog illustrated the extraordinary power of seeking and applying feedback. Here we have the wisdom of a person who has spent his entire career learning to fight for feedback. I am grateful for what they teach me.

Reflection

  • What does it mean to be a servant leader?
  • What does it mean to fight for feedback?
  • How could you use these ideas?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?
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