Written by Kristin Harrington

As a consultant and leadership coach, I’ve had the privilege of leading strategy processes for many partnering organizations. In one particular session early on in my career, I led a smaller group of staff and board members who were well-versed in strategic thinking.

The small group shared feedback on what they hoped from the meetings. All were unanimous in their belief that the discussions should stay high level and our sessions should focus on a few key areas. They had clear goals for the process, including staying out of the weeds.

Did I listen? Not well enough. I (mostly) heard their feedback but thought we might benefit from a more robust discussion. As such, I came to the next meeting with too much content and far too many questions, many of which you could describe as “in the weeds.” The displeasure was obvious, and the second round of feedback was swift. After the meeting, I had a call with the primary client. Her words stopped me outright: “Kristin, you need to improve your ability to accept feedback.” Ooh.. now I was listening!

She was right. I hadn’t wanted to take the time to listen and learn from the group. I just wanted to jump in and do it my way (not unlike my style often). As a result, I majorly missed the mark and got us way off track.

This was a stark reminder of the importance of giving and receiving critical feedback – even leadership coaches need a reminder. Here are some of my favorite takeaways:

Clear is kind. We have this perception that giving feedback makes us mean in some way. Quite the opposite – clear is kind, and unclear is unkind. When team members must constantly guess where they stand or how they can improve, it’s a frustrating experience for everyone. Avoiding honest and productive feedback is an effort to preserve your ego, not to help others improve.

Feedback improves performance at all levels. When feedback is open, honest, and two-way, team performance improves dramatically. The entire team gains insights that are quickly lost without the free flow of feedback. As a result, everyone can reach better decisions, improve their all-around performance, and experience greater success.

Increased engagement. Employees experience higher levels of engagement in cultures with a strong feedback exchange. Anxiety decreases when you don’t have to guess what your colleagues and team leaders think at all moments. Moreover, issues can be resolved quickly, and knowledge is shared openly between team members.

I left my feedback exchange with the client feeling more endeared to them and their organization, not less. Rest assured, I went into every future strategy session with clients, especially mindful of their wishes for the process. Feedback made me a better leader and will strengthen my all-around performance for our clients. How can you create a similar experience in your workplace?

Founded in 2004, Lead Star is the company behind New York Times best-sellers SPARKLeading from the Front, and Bet on You. Lead Star supports professionals to reach new levels of success through an innovative coaching program, Year to Rise.