Remember The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen? Often billed as a tale for children, it tells the story of a vain and rather foolish emperor who hires weavers to create the finest clothes ever made. The unscrupulous weavers convince him that they will use a material that is invisible to those unfit to see it. Of course, nobody dares tell the emperor that he is parading down the street completely naked until an innocent child speaks up and the emperor becomes a laughingstock.
There are versions of this tale that go back almost a thousand years and the unwillingness of some of our current leaders to accept feedback suggests that it is still applicable in today’s world.
One area where leaders can find feedback problematic is the development and implementation of organizational strategy. As we invest time, money and energy in a specific direction our commitment to that course escalates, and it becomes harder to receive feedback from others who see what we won’t acknowledge or haven’t yet come to realize. Objectivity is difficult when it’s our plan.
How do we become better at seeking out and accepting feedback? If you are the provider of feedback, be sure it is about the situation and not the person. The receiver already tends to believe that feedback is a personal affront; so reinforce that it is not me against you; it is us against a problem.
If you’re receiving feedback, try to set aside pride, resist the impulse to take offence, and focus on the message, not the sender or your interpretation of their agenda. Does the message have merit? Will it make the plan stronger? Sometimes, even if it has no appreciable impact, either positive or negative, and the effort to make the change is minimal, it’s worth adopting the new idea. This demonstrates your belief that the plan belongs to all, and helps achieve buy-in from the stakeholders who will help implement the plan.
Those who are willing to be open and collaborative realize that any idea may have merit and should be heard. In organizations where trust is high, it is more likely that feedback can be shared in both directions. Such organizations are among the lucky few that successfully execute their strategy.