Three Things Leaders Don’t Do and How They Hurt, Part 3

In Part 1 of this post series, I wrote about my research into leadership mistakes and, in particular, the three important things leaders tend not to do.

1. We don’t really listen.
2. We don’t ask for feedback.
3. We don’t affirm with connection.

In Part 2, I explored the first with details on developing leadership listening.

In parts 3, and 4, I’ll unpack the second and third mistakes to try to provide more help for church lay leaders, pastors, ministers, Sunday School teachers and small group leaders as we develop our skills.

So let’s take a look at asking for feedback.

  • You’re conducting your annual performance evaluation meeting with one of your associate pastors. At the conclusion of the meeting, you ask, really as more of a courtesy than anything else, whether he would like to make any comments or ask any questions about your performance. You’re expecting, “Nope, everything’s great!” But what you get is a long list of legitimate concerns. A meeting that was supposed to last 30 minutes takes two hours. As he leaves your office you’re thinking, Where did that come from?
  • You learn that a couple that has been in your Sunday School class for almost a year is leaving. A mutual friend tells you that they aren’t comfortable talking to you about their reasons.
  • At the church board meeting, you ask for comments on your performance and all you hear is “You’re great!” “Terrific!” However, while you like hearing that, you know for certain there have been rough spots over the past year and you wonder what they’re not saying.
  • After a year serving on the church building committee, you are not asked to return for a second term even though every other member is asked to return. You haven’t heard a single comment about your performance on the committee and you wonder what’s going on.


It might be the most difficult thing a leader does. And that’s why most don’t do it. Since no one enjoys hearing “bad news” it tends to be the one effective leadership practice most leaders avoid.

Asking for feedback.

Yet it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to grow as a leader without it.

At the university where I work, I conduct an annual anonymous 360-degree feedback survey on my performance. It always makes me squirm, since I know that, along with learning about my strengths, I am also going to learn in which areas I missed the mark. All of my direct reports and several other colleagues with whom I work closely complete the survey. (I have included a screenshot of a portion of the instrument at the end of this post.) I can’t tell you the number of times other leaders have called me crazy for even trying it.

Yep, it is one of the most difficult processes I undertake regularly. And one of the most important. Over the years I have learned such critical lessons as:

  • I’m not as good a listener as I think I am.
  • Some of those I lead need to meet face to face with me very regularly, others consider that micro-managing.
  • While I see myself as an innovator, some see me as playing things too safe to protect those above me. I’m more risk averse than I think I am.
  • While I consider my work ethic a strength, it actually has a de-motivating effect for some.

I think both of the resources listed below can be very helpful in getting you started on the process if you aren’t there yet. Obviously one blog post isn’t sufficient to get you rolling on gathering feedback.

Here, I’ll only offer one bit of advice. And that is, just as you coach and guide those you lead frequently and consistently, give them the opportunity to return the favor frequently and consistently. Make a habit of asking those you lead for advice and input, particularly on your leadership, so often that it becomes simply a matter of how you do business, rather than a once-annual fright fest.

Ask questions such as:

  • Do you have what you need to succeed?
  • Do I make it clear enough to you how important you are to this team?
  • How can I do a better job supporting you?
  • What’s the most helpful thing I’ve done for you in the past six months? Least helpful?

The best questions gather the most helpful feedback.

In the next post, affirming with connection.

Feedback Resources

Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well

The Power of Feedback: 35 Principles for Turning Feedback from Others into Personal and Professional Change

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