While self-assessment is important, finding out how others see us is equally vital. Courageous followers overcome their reticence to hear “criticism”; they learn to encourage honest feedback. Though we have experiences or images of “bosses” giving us streams of criticism about specific tasks, in fact many do not provide feedback on the more fundamental issues they may have with us. They find it too uncomfortable to do so. They, too, can lack courage in relationships, despite their positional superiority.
Courageous followers draw the leader out despite discomfort on either of their parts:
“Nobody does everything perfectly. What should I work on so I can do the job better?”
If we receive negative feedback, however tenuous, we should encourage it with statements like:
“That’s useful for me to know—can you tell me more about that?”
This emboldens the leader, who may be testing the water to see if we really do want to hear this. Once a spirit of open communication is established, a courageous follower probes further:
“Are you concerned about any other aspects of my performance, which may be even more fundamental?”
If we can remain interested and avoid becoming defensive, we can learn crucial things about ourselves and the leader. We should ask for clarification and examples until we are very clear about what change would be desirable.
If the feedback we receive is about an issue on which the leader or others have previously confronted us, hearing further feedback on the subject may raise our understanding of the need to address it, and strengthen our resolve to do so. By eliciting feedback we make sure that we, not others, hear about our perceived flaws and that we are in a strong position to consider what to do about them.