Why Not Listening to Feedback Could Be the Key to Your Next Promotion


What we hear

“I’ve been told I’m too soft with my people, so how can I demonstrate I’m not?”

“The regional changes I introduced have been successful but no-one’s going to believe I can do that nationally, surely.”

“My boss says he loves my enthusiasm and my ideas but what I really need to focus on is the detail.”

These are typical conversation openers for senior people wanting help from me as they seek support to transition to the next level.

Not surprising perhaps – you may even have muttered something similar yourself. I know I have.

The standard response is to work out how to minimize the effect of theses ‘weaknesses’ on potential employers, to convince whoever it is you are trying to influence that they will not get in the way of you doing a good job as a leader, of achieving the goal.

Reframe perceived weaknesses

But what if the ‘standard response’ were wrong?

What if these statements were clues as to our greatness and the value we add?

Take the first of these. “I’ve been told I am too soft” came from a client of mine working as a manager in the health service – let’s call her Julia – who had been asked to apply for a position significantly more senior than she had experienced to date. She nearly didn’t complete the application, which is not untypical for the average woman who, according to a Hewlett Packard study, needs to be sure that she can meet 100% of the job criteria (as opposed to 60% for the average man) before committing pen to paper.

At the interview preparation stage more doubts emerged and these were her comments: during my career the feedback has been I spend too much time listening to staff concerns … my ideas for staff involvement are commendable but we have targets to meet now … I don’t want to appear weak … Can you see where this is heading? All the focus is on perceived weaknesses with her strengths struggling to get noticed.

Find the underlying strengths

What happens when you turn it round? What about this line of questioning?

Clare So Julia, why is it do you think that leaders higher up the chain have sought you out for this position? What is it that you have achieved and been noticed for that has brought you to their attention?

Julia Well I seem to have a reputation for getting things done.

Clare Can you be a bit more specific?

Julia Yes, since I took responsibility for this team, we have moved from 65% to 90% compliance on Key Performance Indicators.

Clare And what would you say is the main reason for this improvement?

Julia Team alignment and trust, without a doubt. It’s been tough to do, but I have carved out time to listen to all my staff. As well as all the usual job worries to be acknowledged, I discovered an abundance of untapped ideas, some of which I managed to put into practice quickly, and some which have taken a bit longer. My people feel part of a team now and that they are making a difference. And the staff sickness rate has plummeted.

Clare And help me out here Julia, what part of this success story relates to being too ‘soft’? I’m not seeing it. What I observe is a very strong leader who understands the necessity of bringing her people with her and ensuring everyone buys into the goals of the team and the wider organization.

Julia Ah! I see what you mean …

Own the value

So with this out of the way we were able to focus on empathy and engagement as strengths. Julia knew exactly what to lead with in her interview presentation.  The key is to understand your unique combination of strengths, work out how they are adding value to the business, and, most importantly, own them. It’s always good to consider feedback from others and act on it if appropriate – but you are the expert on you. If you don’t believe you can do a good job, no-one else will. As I said in a recent post, step out of the shadows and own your value.

Questions to take you further

  • What negative feedback from others have you assimilated as fact?
  • Is this feedback accurate and fair? Could it be a clue to a hidden strength?
  • What is the value of your hidden strengths? What measurable difference do they make to your team and organization?
  • How can you showcase these more effectively?


Find out more about the work Clare McNamara does with leaders and their teams on influence and authenticity.

© Move Ahead Global 2016

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Sign up here
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared.
No Comments

Post A Comment

Skip to content