As leaders it can be very difficult to get relevant feedback that helps you grow. Ideally we would all have in-house mentors that deeply valued our success, and were brilliant coaches that could motivate us with the type of constructive criticism that helps us grow without causing the type of discouragement that leads to burnout. 

These relationships are rare, and often fraught with trust problems, and conflicts of interest that include fear of the loss of the relationship. Which, of course, is why there’s a whole industry related to professional coaching, consulting, and leadership development that is purposefully designed to be from an outsider, temporary, and often very expensive. 

So how can a savvy leader get great feedback for their work if they lack access to wise in-house mentors who will speak the truth in love? What if you can’t afford professional coaching? 

We obviously receive all kinds of feedback all the time. On the one hand, you’ll receive complaints from folks who are dissatisfied. How should you hear those complaints? On the other hand, you may receive flattery and compliments from people who desire all kinds of things. How should you hear the positive things you hear? In voluntary organizations—like the church in which I serve, there are also passive feedback metrics that you have to pay attention to. The adage: “they’ll vote with their feet” is very true. 

Marketing guru Seth Godin says our work is a type of art—and it’s to do “work that matters for people who care.” We’re not trying to equally reach the masses—if you try to please everyone, your work will eventually become mediocre. You’ll be reduced to “tickling itching ears.” It’s much better to create quality work, and listen more carefully to the discerning voices who can help validate whether or not you’re hitting the mark. 

Godin says that most of the feedback you’ll receive is largely irrelevant. The kind of feedback that is invaluable is to ask and seek answers to whether or not people miss you when you’re gone. If you don’t show up with your work that matters—do the people who care miss you? The second component to this (which is the flip side of being missed) is whether or not your work is anticipated. We all know what it feels like to look forward to a movie that’s been advertised months in advance. We know what it feels like to look forward to going to our favorite restaurant. What work are we doing that people look forward to, and miss when it’s not there?

So, we need to be listening to this type of feedback. We need to work to create the tension that causes the feeling of anticipation. “We can’t wait to see you.” “We’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say.” We need to consistently show up, making good on our promises. And if we have to cancel something—or if someone has to miss our activity because of a calendar conflict, we want to hear genuine expressions of regret and disappointment. “We missed you.” If these types of things are being said, especially unsolicited, and from the key influencers in your organization–listen well, and be encouraged.