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'How am I doing?' How feedback enables social leadership

Andreana Drencheva is a Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at the University of Sheffield where she helps social entrepreneurs to develop entrepreneurial and leadership capabilities.

In the 1980’s New York’s legendary mayor Ed Koch was known for his phrase ‘How am I doin’?’. This phrase was not just his public slogan, but also a genuine request for feedback and a meaningful and authentic way to connect with constituents and stakeholders. While we usually think of leaders as the individuals who provide feedback to those they motivate, inspire, organise, and manage; leaders, particularly social leaders, are also in a unique position to benefit from feedback. Feedback can come from diverse individuals to focus on a variety of individual, team, organisational, and system topics. Ultimately, feedback answers two fundamental questions: ‘How am I doing?’ and ‘How can I do better?’.

Feedback enables effective social leadership in three main ways. We can see the benefits of feedback for social leaders by applying the Clore Social Leadership Framework. The framework focuses on helping leaders develop their personal qualities, understand their context, and work with and through others. Feedback underpins each one of these three areas of social leadership.

Clore Social Leadership's Framework

1. Feedback helps social leaders to know and look after themselves. As evaluative type of information (i.e. ‘How am I doing?’), feedback increases self-awareness and tells social leaders whether their skills and actions match their intentions, goals, and values. As suggestive type of information (i.e. ‘How can I do better?’), feedback also provides social leaders with ideas and solutions on how to look after themselves, how to maintain wellbeing, and how to prevent burnout. It can also offer them suggestions on how to lead authentically in a way that reflects their personal values and ideas while balancing others’ expectations of who a leader is, and what a leader does.

2. Feedback helps social leaders assess their current and potential context. While no one can predict the future of the complex and dynamic world we live in, feedback can give a meaningful voice to everyone involved in a system. Thus feedback from diverse perspectives can help social leaders to understand and assess the current position of their work. Feedback is also an essential element of how individuals and organisations learn, thus it can enable social leaders to adapt their work to meet the needs of their context. Feedback from diverse perspectives can also expose the challenges, options, and possible future directions of the system and give social leaders ideas for how to address or take advantage of them.

3. Feedback helps social leaders to work with and through others. Feedback from diverse perspectives enables social leaders to set an inspiring vision that naturally brings others into the process of catalysing social change. Additionally, feedback gives voice to diverse individuals and communities, which allows social leaders to leverage the collective creativity in the system and address challenges and opportunities in a collaborative way. Therefore, feedback makes the social change process more social and collaborative, while also bringing additional resources and support from those who have a similar vision.

To maximise the benefits of feedback, social leaders need to address two main challenges. The first challenge for social leaders is to proactively seek feedback from diverse individuals in a way that makes others feel comfortable to share critical, honest, and objective feedback. The second challenge for leaders is to find the time and space to systematically reflect on the (hopefully) diverse feedback they receive, and decide how to use it to benefit their personal development and the development of their work.

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