Don’t Shoot The Messenger

April 27, 2012 — 10 Comments

How do you respond to uncomfortable feedback?

Recently I spent some time ministering alongside another leader. He has a lot going for him: passion, conviction, a large scope of responsibility, and very able people around him. The potential for long-term impact is tremendous.

As we spent time together, aspects of his character and the way he treats others naturally surfaced. Near the end of our time he asked for some feedback (a really healthy move). I had been praying about what to say, and attempted to deliver my words of encouragement and suggested corrections with grace and truth.

My feedback was met with a bristling defense. Others who have attempted to speak appropriately into this leader’s life have met with the same fate, or worse. Brother, wherever you are today, know that I am praying for you. Our mission is at stake.

Feedback. We love it, and we hate it. As leaders, we can’t live, love, or lead well without it. Feedback is a gift from God to keep us on course, to humble us, and to ensure we don’t get too far ahead of the parade we are supposedly leading. Receiving feedback is a huge piece of learning to share leadership.

Here’s what helps me respond well to uncomfortable feedback:

  • Embrace it. Feedback signals to me the impact, often unintentional, that my words and deeds have on others. Thank the messenger.
  • Commit the issue to prayer. The spirit of God helps me sift out what is helpful and what is not. Jotting the issue down in my journal keeps it in front of me.
  • Ask for help. Asking a friend or coach for their insight really helps. Often they affirm the messenger’s insight!
  • Don’t shoot the messenger. Most people will no longer offer feedback to me if they’ve been rejected more than once.
  • Lead on!

How do you respond to uncomfortable feedback?



10 responses to Don’t Shoot The Messenger

  1. Thank you Ken. This is very helpful, insightful and wise sharing. Blessings, Tariku

  2. Great post Ken. Yea, feedback is two edged, but very necessary for a leader. I think we all take it better when it comes from a person who knows and loves us, and we sense they are trying to help us. But receiving feedback is more largely dependent, not upon the messenger, but the receiver/leader getting the message…does he or she- do I have a humble heart and am I hungry to grow. Good thots.

  3. Thanks, @Tariku.

    @Steve- I like your connection to the character qualities of humility and hunger to grow.

  4. Great article. It’s also hard to deliver it! Especially when it needs to be given, but hasn’t been sought after. 🙂

  5. Ken,
    Your post today reminded me of a story from “Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell.” He always insisted on having one phone line that went directly to field commanders. He didn’t want reality massaged and spun as it went up through the ranks — he wanted unvarnished truth, even if it reflected poorly on him.

    Thanks for seeking to know and live by the truth. Prov 18:15; 19:8

  6. Good thoughts, Ken. And right on target. I applaud the person for asking for feedback – the first step, and you for taking the step of faith to respond honestly.

  7. @laura It is hard to deliver tough news, especially in the heat of the moment. I have found the book “Crucial Conversations” to be a real help to me here, along with Ephesians 4 – comitting to speak the truth in love.

    @steve and @maggie – thanks for your encouragement.

  8. This was timely. In a less structured setting (at home, at dinner), I just “shot a messenger” myself. Guess I’ve got some work to do.

  9. @Dennis – ouch!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. the Leader Impact-5, May 2012 #1 | Leader Impact - May 4, 2012

    […] @kencochrum blog, On Leading Well, has a great post on receiving feedback as leaders in Don’t Shoot the Messenger.  He says, “Feedback. We love it, and we hate it. As leaders, we can’t live, love, or lead […]

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