April 2013: Letter from John

I spend most of my waking life telling clients that feedback is just data, just information -- and they should embrace opportunities to hear and act on it. But I am not so unlike the rest of you. Feedback makes me anxious! I often find myself working to avoid it. Or having mild emotional meltdowns when I receive it.

This was reinforced a few weeks ago when two pieces of feedback consumed my attention -- a stakeholder survey for Floricane and feedback on a lunchtime presentation I did in March for the Virginia Society of Association Executives.

Let's go wi th the "feedback is just data" idea for a minute. The data was good! Hundreds of people told us what they thought. (See below in the newsletter for details.)

People told us that they generally like Floricane and the work we do, and gave us good feedback on ways to be better at what we do. Here's a taste about what Floricane does that stands out: "Think differently. Have opinions. Say what's right. Do right things. Look like you're having fun even if you're not always. Initiate." Score!

The lunchtime crowd at the VSAE event had very kind things to say about my casual style, my use of humor, my transparency and the content of the presentation I delivered on leadership. One perspective: "John's information and his style were excellent. I was most impressed by how authentic he seemed. I would welcome hearing him again." FTW!

Oh, but the devil, my friends, lives right in the briar patch of the details.

I wonder what other words people used to describe Floricane? Let's dig deeper. "Disappointing." Cue me getting hijacked.

How about another take on that presentation? "His program started off like an infomercial." Ouch.

Feedback is awesome. Until it cuts to the bone.

My reaction to feedback always brings to mind one sentence from my very first Insights Discovery personality assessment -- "He dislikes being criticized by others as he is already burdened by his inner voice of self-judgment." Preach on, Insights.

It also surfaces words of wisdom from the late Charles Seashore, one of the greats in organizational behavior. "Feedback," Charles told me in 2007, "tells you as much about the giver as it does about the receiver."

That said, it's important to listen to feedback. In both of these cases, I am the receiver, not the giver, and I have a choice -- to listen, or not. Acting on feedback often is less important than clearly hearing and internalizing it.

The truth is, I have left clients disappointed. More than once. And I know I'm prone to talking too much about my experiences. This recent feedback is a reminder of both facts -- and a call for me, and for the Floricane team, to do better.

"Change is inevitable. Growth is optional." That was the first slide in my VSAE presentation. It was followed by a picture of Charlie Brown saying, "This is going to take more than one night."

It's perfectly normal to have mixed feelings about feedback. It's a bit harder to treat it like a gift. But people complain about (and applaud for) things that matter to them. If I listen clearly, I get to make choices about how I grow, and to what degree that growth is in response to people who matter to me.

Charlie Brown has it right. This is going to take more than one night. This journey is going to take the rest of my life.