The Leader Layer 

I often bear my soul on this blog, and today will be one of those occasions. 

I was walking our production floor the other day, and it got me thinking about how a leader needs to listen to feedback in real time. They have to do more than just hear this feedback. They need to be able to relate to the person giving feedback and willing to occasionally change when change is needed. 

As I’ve thought more about this, I started to think about this in terms of leaders developing a layer of their personality that allows them to listen to, relate to, and accept the feedback of others. I’m calling this the “leader layer,” and I found myself relying on that leader layer several times last week; here are two examples.

Feedback and the Leader Layer

The first example is a positive one. I went out for my production floor walk at 7 AM on Tuesday and was forewarned that one of our long-time team members was going to seek me out to share their thoughts on a policy they’d been gently reprimanded about the previous week. When I arrived at their work area, I sought them out instead. I asked them how they were doing, which allowed them to tell me why they were not doing well. I listened. I sought to understand their point of view and even agreed with some of their frustration over how the message had been delivered. Still, the policy needed to be followed. Now that they felt heard, they were on board. 

This was an easy win. But what happens when the feedback is a little more personal to me?  

Example two: Also last week, I was working on a company update. I shared it with my sisters, and their feedback was it was too long. This wasn’t hard to accept — I realize brevity is not one of my strengths! 

At the same time, I’d shared a blog post with friends whose opinions I deeply value. Two are book authors, so I was anxious to get their views. And guess what — they thought the blog post was too long! For the second time in twenty-four hours, I received the same feedback in terms of length. While their feedback about the overall content was positive, one of my friends pointed out that it could be even stronger if I cut about two-thirds of it. 

Here’s my confession: Hearing this feedback from my sisters and my friends gave me pause. Neither was especially harsh; they weren’t criticizing the content, just expressing concerns about the length! But as I mulled it over late one night, I realized their feedback brought up feelings of insecurity about my writing. 

Only after stewing over it for twenty-four more hours did I realize that internal struggle is the only path to growth. In fact, I had to ask the following questions to lead myself out of insecurity and back to the path of growth:

  • Is this feedback actionable? 
  • Is this feedback fair? 
  • Is this feedback a chance to grow my leader layer? 
  • Am I open to this feedback? 

The answer to all these questions was a resounding yes. 

Developing Your Leader Layer

The leader layer is comprised of feedback, coaching, and in some cases, scars from the past. It is a growth layer born from listening, relating, and acting on feedback. The thicker it becomes, the more you grow. But it’s different than having a “thick skin,” which implies that you can hear anything and let it bounce off of you — having a thick “leader layer” means you can hear things, think about them, and then change for the better when it makes sense.

The question you have to ask yourself is, are you open to this kind of feedback? Are you open to growing your leadership layer?