Here’s What You’re Bad At. Can You Handle It?

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By Olivia Berkman

Seeking feedback can be a frightening prospect. But being able to hear it and make improvements is perhaps the bigger challenge. If you can master the art of accepting feedback, however, success is sure to come.

“The executive coach is like, ‘I'm going to go interview your whole management team, and the board and ask them what you're bad at.’ And I looked at my husband and said, ‘What did I just sign up for?’” For most of us, the prospect of someone surveying those we work most closely with about our biggest weaknesses doesn’t sound like a very enticing exercise. Though it was a hard pill to swallow for Founder and Managing Partner of Inspired Capital Partners Alexa von Tobel, the exercise may well have been the biggest gift she’s ever given herself.

But asking for feedback, whether from your peers or an executive coach, can be a challenge. Without vulnerability, however, there is no growth. This was a universal theme throughout last week’s ACG Women of Leadership Summit, with many female founders and entrepreneurs recognizing that asking for guidance and embracing shortcomings has improved their leadership skills dramatically. 

“Leadership is not something that is just innate,” von Tobel pointed out. “You may have natural leadership tendencies, but actually refining them, and getting really good is just like training for a sport.”

Along with employing an executive coach or using a personal advisory board – which von Tobel also does – asking for feedback from your peers, board members, employees, family and friends is also an important step in the journey to becoming a better leader. “The executive coaches taught me to start loving feedback. The takeaway is that worlds have opened, relationships around me get better, people want to continue to work for me.” 

Admitting when we’re wrong is a useful way to encourage people to be more open and honest with us. Author, speaker, and owner of Rejection Therapy Jia Jiang explains that having authenticity is vital to building trust. “A lot of times when we’re having problems or fear or something perceived as negative, we think it’s just us and everyone else has got themselves figured out and we’re having problems so let’s hide it. But if we open up, we’d find out no one has their thing figured out. If you actively work on a solution to your issue which you admit to have, then you can become a leader in that sphere.

“I have a team and if I come in and put up a façade that I know everything: I’ve got everything figured out. I’m going to tell you what to do. I'm going to teach you everything. One, it’s not real. People will see through that. No one’s perfect. And if you make mistakes and still try to maintain that image, that just doesn’t work. Once trust is lost, it’s gone.”

So where to begin? Jiang says to start with the ‘why’ instead of the ‘what’ or ‘how.’ “When asking for feedback, you have to make sure people know why you’re asking for feedback. And you have know yourself why you’re asking for feedback. Is it like, ‘Hey, I should ask for feedback because I’m about to give feedback to others but I don’t want this to be a one way street.’ That’s the wrong incentive to have."

When Jiang asks his own members for feedback, he makes sure he is clear on the business goals the team is trying to achieve. “Then I ask for feedback. ‘Is what I’m doing helping us as a group to get closer to those goals?’ And so, in this way, instead of looking at me as the subject matter and almost like being on trial, we can look at our goals as the subject matter. It becomes less personal. And then we can see how we, together, can improve to achieve those goals.”