Have you ever gotten feedback and struggled to know what to do with it? I’m not talking about feedback that is vague or poorly delivered (those are topics of their own) but, rather, feedback that you struggle to get your head wrapped around or continue to write off. If you have, or if you’ve tried to give feedback to someone and had this response, perhaps this blog will help you understand why.

Recently, I met with a CEO whose board had suggested that he consider engaging a coach. While the organization was doing well and, overall, the board and the employees were satisfied with the CEO, there were some aspects of his performance that they wanted him to address. Specifically, comments on the engagement survey and in his 360 pointed to behaviors like, talking over people, having the answer, and micromanaging.

When I asked him how this feedback resonated with him, he had different reactions to each. He was incredulous about the idea that he was perceived as micromanaging. “They can’t be talking about me. I work hard to ensure that the right work sits with the right person. I take the time to make sure they have thought through the deliverables, deadlines, and contingencies. And, we have systems in place to make sure things go as planned.”

He was puzzled that the feedback “he always has the answer” was seen as an opportunity for improvement. “I’m the CEO. The buck stops with me, right? Aren’t I supposed to have the answers? Isn’t that why they’re paying me?”

Finally, he chuckled a bit when addressing the issue of talking over people. He jokingly asked if I’d spoken to his family. He said that this is the feedback he hears all the time. “I’m not doing it to be dismissive or rude”, he assured me, “I just need people to get to the point.”

If you’re tracking this, you see three different responses to the feedback.

  1. I don’t see it.
  2. How is this a problem?
  3. This is your issue, not mine.

 

What sits underneath all three of these responses is a disconnect between the way the CEO sees himself and the feedback he is receiving. Because what he had been hearing didn’t align with his self-image, he hadn’t paid it much attention. It turns out that what he had been recognized and rewarded for from a very young age had been his ability to quickly get stuff done. That repeated acknowledgment reinforced the behavior. It became who he was. He attributed his rapid rise to CEO to it. He even quipped, “I’ve got a reputation as the get sh&* done guy.” He followed that up by saying, “If they don’t want that person anymore, then do they still want me? And how am I supposed to be CEO if I’m not that person?”

How we see ourselves can impede our ability to take in feedback. In those instances, it can be helpful to work with someone who can help you separate who you are from how you are showing up.