Are You Sharpening Your Leadership Edge?© (adapted from Unmask: Let Go of Who You’re “Supposed” to Be & Unleash Your True Leader)

Stephen Covey is famous for his book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People (Free Press 1989), and his Seventh Habit is simple – Sharpen the Saw. Covey is referring to a balanced program of self-renewal in four core areas: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual. Similarly, but in a different context, Abraham Lincoln said:

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.”

Much like the wisdom of Stephen Covey and Abraham Lincoln, I believe that it’s critical to continually sharpen the blade of your leadership. This means that you must constantly be sharpening yourself and your awareness as a leader, even if it’s not for any particular project or initiative.

One of the critical elements for sharpening your leadership edge is feedback, and feedback is the realm where conscious leaders soar out of the darkness of vague comments or general input and into the light of personal and professional growth and acceleration, all on the wings of vulnerability. Conscious leaders invite and embrace direct and honest feedback all the time and receive it with genuine gratitude, knowing that without feedback they cannot change.

In a world where the norm is to avoid feedback and everything that comes with it (the judgments and true criticisms), conscious leaders genuinely and continually seek to know themselves better (for better or worse), so they invite and crave feedback. They seek feedback for the same reasons as others—it is the best way to improve—but conscious leaders desire outside feedback because, more than others, they understand the reality that they have blind spots (things about themselves and their leadership that they cannot see for themselves). Thus, conscious leaders know that outside feedback is the only way to see how others see them, their decisions, their actions and their leadership.

While conscious leaders are adept at introspection and embrace looking into their own mirror for insights, clarity and self-truth telling, they also understand the nature of blind spots:  the things about themselves that they cannot see except through outside feedback. Other people can see what you cannot see about yourself, but that knowledge and perspective is irrelevant unless and until it is communicated to you (as feedback). Sadly, we live in a social and business culture where feedback is often considered to be negative, and the primary concern is about not hurting anyone’s feelings.

Yes, conscious leaders can play a vital role in enhancing the process of delivering honest communication and feedback. Feedback, however, is one of the many areas where a paradigm shift is necessary in order to develop conscious leadership traits in a wide range of people (e.g. your entire team). One of these traits of conscious leaders is a different perspective on giving and receiving feedback.

Imagine a work place, a community and even a world where people wanted direct feedback and craved this information as a way to improve themselves, their relationships and their impact. When people understand what they can get from a different way of being, many people will want to experience it and live it for what it gives them in their businesses and their lives. What we are discussing is not just about leadership skills for people in positions of authority. It is a matter of livingship skills for all people.

Rather than trying to pretty it up, clean it up or nice it up, conscious leaders embrace direct feedback because it is the only way to get better and change who you are, how you communicate, how you live and how you lead. Without direct feedback, you will only be as good as you can discern that you need to be, which is ultra-limiting. Learning from and relying primarily on your own insights and perspectives is the typical way that leaders function, but conscious leaders go deeper, learn more, change more and create more because they seek out and appreciate honest feedback from others.

Admittedly, there are many people who say that they want feedback. They ask their teams to give them feedback, but they never or rarely receive it. When they do not get input or feedback, unconscious leaders reach one of two conclusions: 1. I’m good; or 2. My team members (or partners or friends) are not willing to share it, so shame on them for not sharing. If they are not willing to share, then there is no reason or nothing for me to change.

Excuse me? What about a third option: your team members, partners or friends do not trust you and do not believe you when you say that you want direct and honest feedback. They have heard that before from others and probably from you, yet they experienced something other than openness and receptivity when they shared. Likely, much of their prior experience with providing feedback, whether downstream to people that report to them, to peers or partners on their same organizational level, and especially upstream to managers, is that the receivers of the feedback were defensive, did not listen and certainly did not change.

Of course, feedback does not always mean that the receiver will change, but the person sharing the feedback should have a reasonable expectation that he or she will be heard and not attacked for it. Most people have a long history of unpleasant experiences in providing feedback (usually genuinely designed to provide support and help), and it will take some time for them to be willing to be vulnerable in this area themselves.

This is where it is so critical for you as a conscious leader to model openness, receptivity and gratitude when you receive feedback, no matter how critical it might feel or sound. Even if you perceive that the person sharing the feedback is being judgmental, harsh or even personally offensive, you must be willing to receive the feedback, assess it (independent of the person providing it and even independent of the judgments that accompany it) and integrate it into your life and leadership. Not everything should be changed, but conscious leaders genuinely embrace the feedback (no matter the source or the context) and use the parts that fit to create new ways of leading and doing.

A genuine desire to receive and a true sense of gratitude when you do receive feedback are critical elements of all conscious leaders. You demonstrate your gratitude not only by hearing the feedback, but by answering any form of feedback with the magic words: Thank You! Even if they vehemently disagree with the feedback, conscious leaders are grateful to have it because at least they learn what the other person thinks and feels. This is invaluable information for any leader, especially in terms of managing relationships, teams, people and outcomes.

If you want to keep your leadership edge sharpened, embracing feedback will serve as a vital sharpening stone for you as a conscious leader.Sharpening a Knife

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