Bonni and I recently moved and have been working with a number of service providers. Many of them do not ask for feedback when they finish work, and those that do typically say something like this:
We really appreciate your business and I hope you're satisfied with our work. You may receive a phone call or survey about your experience with our company. If you do, I expect that you'll give us all 10's. Can I get your commitment that you'll complete this survey and give us 10 ratings should they call?
What I hear in my mind when I get this line: “I don't really care that much about your business. If I did, I'd actually ask you for your feedback first and genuinely listen for the answer. I'm just trying to keep the numbers as high as possible to keep my manager off my back.”
But it's not just them…
I was sitting in a client meeting recently that had been assembled to collect feedback on an initiative a number of us observed the organization complete. When asked, I gave a somewhat critical assessment of what I genuinely thought was a mediocre execution of the initiative. Immediately, one of the leaders in the room jumped in to explain why my perceptions were wrong and how the initiative was actually a success. Not surprisingly, they received only glowing reviews from everyone else.
As leaders, most of us have long known that we should engage people to get their feedback. The “open door” policy a lot of us have used informs people that we are ready and willing to hear feedback, right?
In reality though, a lot of times we just don't want to hear it. We just want people to go about their work and be grateful for their jobs. That's why I was struck by this quote from Colin Powell when I first came across it about ten years ago:
The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
If I'm being honest with myself, then I have to admit that I want to be liked. I want people to think that I'm the best leader that they've ever worked for. I want to hear mostly good things when people ask me for feedback. And on the hopefully rare occasions when they do give me critical feedback, I want it to be something really simple to fix so that I can feel good that I've responded to critical feedback and made genuine change.
I don't really want to hear the tough stuff.
It's human nature to complain…and if we seriously examine ourselves, most of us conclude that we complain daily too. As much as I want the above, I've learned over that years that the people I lead are always going to complain. The question is where the complaints are going. Either they are complaining to me or they are complaining about me.
I wouldn't be truthful to say that I enjoy hearing complaints, but I've learned the hard way that I'd rather people complained to me than about me…and that requires me to actually make time to hear and respond to complaints. I doesn't mean that people can complain all day long, but it does mean that I need to engage people and be sure they are heard.
If you hear complaining, it doesn't mean you are an excellent leader – but it does mean you have made some progress in building trust.
Do you agree that hearing complaints from those you lead is a positive sign? Why or why not? Add your comments (or complaints) below.