Leadership is a Contact Sport: Ask

Marshall Goldsmith
4 min readMar 12, 2021

“Soliciting feedback” is just what the words imply. It is when we solicit opinions from people about what we are doing wrong. As simple as it sounds, it is not always so simple. Most people have two problems dealing with negative feedback. This may not sound like many, but they are big problems. The first is we don’t want to hear it and the second is we don’t want to give it.

The reason we don’t want to hear it is because negative feedback is inconsistent with our self-image and so we reject it. Did you know that of all the classes I’ve taught 95 percent of members believe they are in the top half of their group? While this is statistically impossible, it is psychologically real. Proving to successful people that they are “wrong” works just about as well as making them change.

The reason we don’t want to give it is because our leaders and managers have power over us, our paychecks, advancement, and job security. The more successful a person is the more power they have. Combine that power with the fairly predictable “kill the messenger” response to negative feedback and you can see why people don’t want to give feedback.

There are some other difficulties with traditional face-to-face negative feedback. Most of them boil down to the fact that it focuses on failures of the past not positive actions for the future. Feedback can reinforce our feelings of failure, and our reactions to this are rarely positive. More than anything, negative feedback shuts us down. We need honest, helpful feedback, which is hard to find.

That’s enough about what’s wrong with feedback. Let’s talk about the good stuff. Feedback is very useful for telling us “where we are.” Without it, I couldn’t work with my clients. I wouldn’t know what the people around my client think about what he or she needs to change. Likewise, without feedback, we wouldn’t know if were getting better or worse. We all need feedback to see where we are, where we need to go, and to measure our progress along the way. And I have a foolproof method for securing it.

When I work with coaching clients I always get confidential feedback from their coworkers at the beginning of the process. I enlist each person to help me out. I want them to assist not sabotage the change process. I do this by saying to them, “I’m going to be working with my client for the next year. I don’t get paid if she doesn’t get better. Better is not defined by me; it is not defined by her. It is defined by you and the…

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Marshall Goldsmith

My mission is simple. I want to help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior; for themselves, their people, and their teams.