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Silicon Valley CTOs and CIOs have some helpful advice for technologists and engineers who want to climb the leadership ladder. I uncovered this while interviewing prominent technology leaders about their leadership journeys.
As you can imagine, much of what they shared reinforced conventional wisdom regarding advancement within your profession:
I proposed a situation where they had to decide on a promotion within their team. What one or two attributes did the successful candidate have over his/her colleagues? How would they make their decision?
One answer stood out in particular.
This very successful CTO was very quick to say, “Feedback”. The candidate needs to demonstrate they have developed the necessary muscle to not only hear, but act on feedback constructively. Sounds easy, right? Not so much.
Most technologists and engineers receive their education in a very competitive, fairly individualized environment. Test scores, grades, degrees, and awards showcase achievement or lack thereof. Naturally there is great pressure to be smart and innovative as an individual.
Successful leaders need to shift from a highly individualized competitive mindset to one that includes a people focus, featuring teamwork and collaboration, to achieve the desired influence and impact in a competitive industry. Teamwork hinges on people’s ability to give and receive feedback with each other, their leadership team, and their customers.
Not all feedback is positive, nor is all feedback is constructive. How you and your teammates share and navigate feedback impacts your team dynamics, positively or negatively.
Consider these scenarios:
In all these scenarios, you are receiving feedback. If the feedback is positive, congratulations! Thank your team, celebrate, but don’t overly delay getting back to performing.
Many of the above scenarios sound like criticism. You could choose to ignore them, hope they go away, or were an aberration. You could choose to attack the credibility of the source. Or you could choose to embrace feedback, even imperfectly delivered, for the gift it can be.
Go ahead and privately feel your feelings when the seemingly negative feedback sting first hits. Take a moment or a day to compose yourself. Suspend judgment of the provider and the situation, and then go about the process of learning from the feedback, constructively.
For example, your boss tells you, for the second time, ‘You provide too much detail in your status report’. The first time you heard, but decided your boss was just cranky that day, besides you like all the detail. However, this time you shift, looking for the learning experience gift that feedback can be.
You might start with one or two of these types of questions. Your goal is to understand more about the comment and your boss’s thoughts on the remedy.
Your boss might reply with one of these comments.
You may find yourself thanking people for taking the brave step of providing you feedback, even if it wasn’t delivered gracefully or when you were expecting it. Consider recalibrating your reactions to “feedback” so you hear “learning experience gift”. Eventually your feedback muscle will be so strong you will welcome feedback, seeing it as a path to improving yourself, your skills, and your innovations.