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The five challenges of asking, 'how am I doing?

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

“How am I doing?” and “How can I do better?” are two simple, yet powerful questions for social leaders. Using these two questions to seek feedback from diverse individuals is a fundamental strategy for social leaders. It can help them learn, develop and implement more creative solutions, build communities, and ultimately to create social change. Yet, the evidence shows that not all social leaders seek feedback. If asking these two questions is a simple way for social leaders to grow and develop, why don’t they seek feedback more often? I suggest that it is because seeking feedback presents five personal, professional, and organisational challenges.

  1. Seeking feedback can bruise the ego. Like all of us, social leaders have personal egos. While they are often described as heroic figures, they are human beings with personal feelings and identities. As social leaders often pour their hearts and souls into their work, seeking feedback requires putting personal feelings and identities aside to receive developmental, critical, and useful feedback, which is can be negative. Yet this can be difficult because these emotions and identities are what motivates them to do their work in the first place.
  2. Seeking feedback requires resources. Seeking feedback takes time, effort, and energy. While it may seem like a simple act, asking for feedback competes for resources with other important activities at work, such as strategy or fundraising, and in their personal lives, such as childcare or quality family time.
  3. Seeking feedback can disappoint others. Social leaders recognise that seeking feedback comes with the implicit assumption that the provided feedback will be used in some way. Yet they may not always be in a position to act on their feedback even when they agree with it. This might be due to a lack of resources or institutional and organisational constraints that make it difficult or even impossible to implement specific changes. Thus, instead of giving false hope by seeking feedback, they may choose to refrain from it.
  4. Seeking feedback can damage social leaders’ reputation. One of our expectations of social leaders is that they are competent, knowledgeable, and strong individuals. Recognising this assumption, social leaders are sometimes concerned that seeking feedback might portray them in front of others as weak, indecisive, and incompetent. They fear this portrayal might damage their reputation as well as the reputation of their work.
  5. Seeking feedback can limit organisational advantages. Seeking feedback often requires at least partial disclosure of information related to ideas, approaches, and methods unique to the work of the social leader. We might think or at least hope that the social sector is guided by ethical decision making. However, there are numerous examples of individuals and organisations appropriating the ideas of social leaders after giving them feedback. Therefore instead of creating opportunities for collaboration and improvement for social leaders, seeking feedback might enhance the competition.

How can social leaders address these five challenges? The first step is to recognise the trade-offs between seeking feedback and refraining from seeking feedback; to recognise both the bright and the dark side of seeking feedback. The second step is to make active choices between the trade-offs and to balance the benefits and costs with a long-term view.

Do you agree with these points, or do you have further suggestions on the topic? Please share your views about this blog post below, or contact Andreana on Twitter.

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