Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

That’s a statement that author Ken Blanchard explains in sports terms. “Can you imagine,” asks Blanchard, “training for the Olympics with no one telling you how fast you ran or how high you jumped?”

The leadership application, of course, is that without feedback we cannot accurately assess reality. If we don’t know what we’re doing wrong, or what’s going wrong, we can’t fix it. This makes sense intellectually, but in reality, feedback can go down like a bowl of cold, lumpy oatmeal.

Today’s leaders face increasingly complex problems. No one person can have all of the answers. That’s why leaders of the 21st century must have the humility to encourage feedback. To step back and create space for others to show you your blind spots and help you make improvements that count.

Harvard Business Review contributors John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin called this intellectual humility. “Without humility,” the authors argue, “you’re not able to learn.” Here are three principles of humility that will help put you in a feedback frame of mind:

1. Know what you don’t know. The higher you climb up the proverbial corporate ladder, the greater the temptation it is to believe that you are the smartest person in the room. But deep down, you know that you don’t have all of the answers. You may not even have all of the questions. Know when to defer and be open to learning from others.

2. Resist falling for your own publicity. Part of the leadership role is to maintain a positive outlook. Your confidence boosts that of your team and your customers. While it’s important to have a positive outlook, it’s just as important to correctly assess reality. Keep your spirits high, but your judgment at an even keel.

3. Never underestimate the competition. No matter how smart you are, how many hours you are willing to put in, or how creative you get, do not allow a residue of hubris to set into your culture. There is always competition for your customer’s attention.

The first task of any leader is to assess reality correctly. You can’t do that without having the feedback you need to make necessary adjustments. Open yourself to feedback by having the humility to know your own limits, keep your ego in check, and resist the false comfort of complacency.

Question: What specific actions are you taking to remain humble as a leader?

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