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Four reasons why CEOs flinch at the idea of receiving feedback

The CEO’s door is always open. You have their telephone number and e-mail address. The invite for a cup of coffee is just a click away. After all, the company claims to be open-minded and sensitive to the needs of its employees. Employees who bring new perspectives, initiate the exchange of ideas and lead constructive discussions are greatly valued.

But when you finally work up the courage, your Google invitation is suddenly rescheduled, you receive no response or they bluntly refuse. Many employees will recognise this scenario all too well. It becomes harder to reach the CEO, they are constantly busy or there simply isn’t enough time for your request.

While you probably think you’re the problem, there may be other reasons why leaders feel ill at ease when receiving feedback.

Crisis demands a change in priorities

The brutal truth is that managers often really are too busy to run the company properly. Take for example the uncertainty caused by the pandemic during the past two years. The ever-changing restrictions, the pressure to provide a hygienic environment and the general emphasis on crisis management gave leaders plenty of headaches.

In circumstances like these, organising feedback sessions is easily pushed to the bottom of the agenda.

The power paradox

In some cases, a new-found position of power may be the reason why CEOs ignore requests for feedback. Dacher Keltner, an American psychologist, has spent a great deal of his career studying people in positions of power and the associated changes in their behaviour.

Managers are selected based on characteristics such as openness, stability and enthusiasm. But once they reach the top, power gives people the feeling that they have certain rights and privileges that others don’t. Power leads to “empathy deficits”, i.e. a lack of concern for the feelings of others. As a consequence, power can lead to feelings of exceptionalism, which can manifest themselves in impoliteness and a lack of respect.

Higher position, different habits

The quantity of feedback that you receive gradually diminishes as you rise through the corporate hierarchy. In simple terms, the higher you rise in the organisation, the less feedback you receive. Top managers are rarely subject to evaluations, except when things go wrong. If a formal discussion arises about the work of a director, it generally concerns their performance and output rather than their behavioural patterns.

Successful people receive only praise

Interestingly enough, top leaders are treated differently by the people around them. Their successful careers, or simply the fact that they occupy positions of authority, protects top managers from harsh criticism from employees. If they ever receive feedback, it is highly likely to be positive. Even in cases of improper behaviour, CEOs are confronted with empathy and trivialisation of what happened. After all, no one wants to be the one who ruins the party. Regardless of whether the CEO lacks empathy for their employees, their habits are different or simply because they are too busy, there is sometimes no end to the excuses. So make it your mission to foster a working culture in which leaders prioritise giving and requesting feedback.

Regularly asking for feedback is a surefire way of improving employee commitment and an opportunity to learn from one another.

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