In my line of work, feedback comes in a million forms from whispered comments to frustrated emails, from thankful notes to exhausted declarations. The reality of the job is that I have the privilege to work with a lot of hard-working adults and for me...adults are not as easy as kids. When I am in the classroom, I can see, feel, hear, and touch my success. I am a middle school teacher, so I am going to leave smell out of it. While adults definitely smell better, their feedback is so much less tangible. So what do we end up doing? Surveys. Lots of surveys.
Surveys are great. They give you data. They collect thoughts. They organize information. Surveys are an acceptable choice because they are efficient. What they aren't is kind, considerate, caring, or sensitive. Unlike a respected mentor, surveys cannot highlight your areas for growth in a way that simultaneously grows and encourages you. How could they? Surveys are intimate objects. So when the cold, hard data rolls in...as a leader, I have to navigate the frustrations, exhaustion, excitement, and celebrations to find the kernels of feedback that will truly help me grow.
I am going to be honest, step one for me is to focus on the frustrated comments. Like throw on some sweatpants, grab a bowl of ice cream, and mope in a corner kind of focus on the frustrations. As my own worst critic, it is easy for me to contemplate all of the ways in which I fail. Reflection is a beloved past time of mine with a regular dabbling in over-thinking. So please, imagine what goes on in my mind when someone comes close to touching on an insecurity. Please tell me that I am not the only one that picks up the irritated quips rather than the accolades?! But at the end of step one, I question if it's all worth it. I pull out my, "why" and ask myself if I believe it.
Step two generally comes within 24 hours. Step two is where the growth starts. Because during step two, I step back confident that what I am trying to accomplish is worth boop-boops to my pride (I have a 3 year old). It is here that I turn OFF the emotional responses and the focuses on failure. Instead, I turn ON my analytical eyes. I search for patterns. How many people said x, what does that mean for my practice? I ask a trusted mentor or colleague to read through and share what they see. I pull out trends. I sift through comments that are not really about me. Then I start asking myself, "What parts of this can I own?" for the rest. Often times, there is something there. (Thank you to Deb for that insight). You see, what I am realizing over and over is that being able to take anonymous feedback and use it to grow requires maturity. It is easy to write off the negative. It is just as easy to become consumed by it. What isn't easy is creating a plan to grow.
Step three. Now that I have taken time to think through this data and analyze the comments... I have to ask myself "What am I going to do about it?". This is where the magic happens. As imperfect beings, we are always going to have shortfalls, but that does not mean we give up. It means we dig in. I like to write out my conclusions, think about what I would need to do differently to address the conclusions, identify clear and achievable action steps, and then move to step four.
Step four is all about follow through. Seriously, I embrace the old Nike adage and "Just Do It". I always feel better when I do. Set goals. Revisit the goals. Reflect on the goals. Keep going. An insightful friend recently reminded me that if you have hit step four, you are likely doing amazing things already. Because a person is willing to do the work and end up in step four is committed. Those people believe in what they are doing. They have a "why" that is strong enough to forge through the darkest depths of self-doubt.
Step five...I move forward knowing that another survey will come. More data will be collected. More comments will be made. Some will notice and note the positive changes. Some will "find" and relay new growth areas. It will probably sting. I may find myself at Step One all over again. But I will move through the steps. I will reflect. I will grow. And I will be better for it. I hope you join me and do the same.