Humility in leadership, blah blah…

Humility in leadership, blah blah…


If I was given a penny for each time I read or heard that humility is key to authentic leadership, my accountant would be one happy lady indeed.


[mass noun] The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance:

‘he needs the humility to accept that their way may be better’


The John Lewis story

This morning I went to hear Andy Street speak at the Said Business School in Oxford. In October 2016 Street stepped down from his role as MD of John Lewis to focus on a political career in the West Midlands.

Reciprocate, a new-ish local business network that aims to support local communities, had invited Street to share the story of the John Lewis partnership to an audience of 200 local business people and it was a sell-out.

For those of you who like me didn’t know this; the John Lewis partnership is the biggest industrial co-operative in the UK. It has 92,000 employees or ‘partners’ who own the business. There are no external shareholders and so the company answers only to itself.

I found myself thinking, How on earth do 92,000 people on the work floor exert any kind of decision making power? and so I asked the question.  (more…)

Humility in leadership, blah blah…

Feedback overload anyone?

Feedback speech balloons

In a single week in October I received an email asking for feedback on a 2-mile bus journey into town, one from my bank asking asking feedback about the experience of paying in a check at a branch, another about the experience of booking onto a conference, and one about a £100 million commercial development being built 200 yards from my front door.

Which one do you think I spent my time on?

The value of feedback

Feedback can tell us how we are doing: it can tell us which products are going to be best sellers and which ones need development. Feedback can increase profits – personal or commercial. It can help us grow in our roles. We use it to make informed decisions.

Feedback: the word is everywhere.

The ubiquity of feedback notwithstanding, do we truly understand its value and use? For starters, learning to ask for and take feedback is not easy at all. As the examples above show, I want to be asked about things that matter to me, and I’d like to be asked precisely when those things matter to me. Getting that right is an art.

Unfortunately for the Oxford Bus Company I wasn’t overly excited about my uneventful 2-mile trip to the station because I’ve made that journey a thousand times, and could barely remember making it.

The point here is to choose the sample wisely and time the request well, so that the respondent can recall the experience clearly.

Asking for feedback sets expectations

What happens with my feedback once I click send? For me to be motivated to help make things better I need to see the difference my feedback is making. After all, I’m being asked to give some of that most valuable of commodities: my time. Show me the value of feedback, and not just to you, but to me as a customer too.

What will be different if I sent you my feedback?

Delivering on feedback

When supporting change programmes, I spend much time and energy making sure decision makers understand how important it is to ask for feedback at crucial times; to ask the right questions when they do, and above all, show plenty of evidence of where, when and how things changed as a result of getting the input from people.

Evidencing how feedback is making things better is a real motivator for people who are personally invested in the change. For you, this evidence can also help in arguing that you do listen and that everyone has a responsibility in the change process.

A golden rule here is not to ask questions about things you cannot (or will not) change. If feedback simply would not change matters, an entirely different and very honest conversation needs to be had instead.

Being on the receiving end of feedback

Receiving feedback can be synonymous to taking it on the chin. Asking for it means being committed to responding to it, including to comments you consider to be ill-informed or unfair. Other feedback might tap into vulnerabilities you already knew about, but were trying not to face up to. This can be painful, especially if it’s received in a formal way such as an appraisal or 360 degree feedback.

Be prepared for the unexpected and the painful, and perhaps consider when the best time is for you to ask for feedback, if you feel that you’re not in the most robust of mental shapes.

The good stuff

Let’s not forget positive feedback… and the fact that even disgruntled customers can share some constructively, simply because they want to help make things better and consider you to be approachable and receptive.

Finally: you don’t have to take all feedback to heart. You may be developing a product which isn’t actually aimed at the respondent. Or perhaps you received some feedback about your performance knowing it’s about an incident which has since been addressed. A respondent’s taste in logos could simply not match that of an important majority – and that’s OK too.

While feedback is crucial to minimising blind spots and making things better, you’re certainly allowed to exercise judgment. The feedback information you elicited is yours to conscientiously use as you need to.