Feedback and Reflection: A Process for Continuing Excellence in Leadership

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In his entertaining and informative book, Legacy, James Kerr (2013) outlines the All Blacks principles of establishing an effective and winning culture, and of exceptional leadership. One of their principles (now taken by many other organisations and teams) is stated in the humorous phrase “No Dickheads”. The principle essentially states that teams should not employ or engage a character who is expert in their area (e.g. playing a certain position in football), but who is ego-driven, disruptive and non-cooperative. In short, someone who is not a team player will prove to be more trouble than they are worth.

When we conduct workshops on Team Work and on Leadership and this point is discussed, participants often ask “But what if the person is already employed and they don’t know that they are ‘a dickhead’?” and worse, “What if you are working for ‘a dickhead’ and he or she has no intention of being otherwise?”

Leaving the amusing, colloquial term behind, the points are actually very important. When such issues occur- when an inept or disruptive character is in the team or worse, in a leadership position- a good deal of the team’s energy and creativity will be spent managing their destructive colleague or leader and their effectiveness will be reduced and distorted by this extra, unnecessary, continuing project.

Clearly, recruiting competent staff, excellent training and addressing performance issues promptly should all be part of every effective organization’s commitment to staff health and organizational excellence. However, there should be something more. In fact, there should be a number of “something mores” that not only address these issues but that promote a culture in which these issues do not occur.

In Practice Five, we believe that every employee should be considered a practitioner and hence, every practitioner should receive regular “professional supervision”. Regular professional supervision is an immediate forum that provides each practitioner with feedback and which actively promotes reflection. Link to upcoming free webinar on professional supervision

Leaders should also have regular professional supervision. And as they are in roles of increased responsibility and stewardship, leaders would be well advised to have a deep personal commitment to reflection and feedback. What does that look like?

A constant interest in regular feedback should be part of a leader’s sensibility. Access to a 360 degree feedback format is obviously very helpful. But failing that, and even above and beyond that, a leader interested in excellence and increased performance could regularly ask a variety of his or her managers, peers, and direct reports, if they have any feedback for him or her about their leadership style, their clarity, their communication capacity and their level of engagement. Such feedback from a broad group across an organization will give the leader (that being a person in a leadership position at any level of the organisation) very relevant material for reflection that will facilitate her or his development. The “broad group” needs to be regularly varied to avoid populist bias.

How does one reflect? Of course, not all feedback is valuable, relevant or aimed at increased performance. Some feedback can be vague, tangential or just plain spiteful. To take all feedback “on board” would be a potentially confusing exercise.

The leader needs to be judicious in her or his consideration and use of feedback. But, she or he needs to see this as a chance, to be honest with her or himself. They need to ask themselves questions like:

  1. Could I learn something from this piece of feedback?
  2. Are there recurring themes here that are issues that I would be wise to address or alter?
  3. Is this particular random piece of feedback something I should attend to? Does it seem random because it speaks to a blind spot of mine?
  4. How could I use this feedback to reduce risk to myself and to the team and organization?
  5. What changes could I make, based on a thoughtful consideration of this feedback, to improve my performance and the culture of the team and organisation?

Any or all of those reflections could put the leader into an advantageous space to improve personal performance and team/organisational culture. Once considered, the leader, acting with integrity, will set some objectives and tasks to address issues raised and to improve her or his capacities. The Practice Five Framework provides many constructs and activities that streamline leaders access to new capacities and performance, and can be utilised to respond to ongoing feedback and reflection.

A final point needs to be made about the very valuable process of “Feedback and Reflection”. Not only is the process valuable for its intended outcome i.e. that it provides leaders (or even conscientious practitioners) with a vibrant and relevant activity for improving their own performance, but the very act of seeking feedback and engaging in reflection, and then seeking feedback at another time in the not-too-distant future is a beneficial intervention, in itself.

It is an intervention that increases leadership visibility, improves staff engagement and promotes openness and connection throughout the organisation. It is a massive win/win activity that is worth much more than any brief trouble that it takes to organise it and it makes the existence of destructive characters in the workplace a very unlikely space to maintain.


Paul B. Gibney Ph.D.

Reference: Kerr, James. 2013. What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. LEGACY. 15 Principles in Leadership. London: Constable.

Link to upcoming free webinar on professional supervision

Link to YouTube video  Legacy by James Kerr

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