Accepting Feedback

At the end of every course I teach at IESE Business School, all participants give extensive feedback on their experience of the course, the facilities… and on my role as a teacher.

When the summarized feedback reaches me a couple of weeks later, I open the pdf in a state of nervous tension.  I am preparing myself emotionally for the news contained in the report.  If the report is positive, I start to relax and enjoy the feeling of professional competence.

Photo Credit: Ben Heine

However, the last few quotes on the report are always the “areas for improvement”.  I get tense again, and start already to justify myself before I even start reading.

I love positive feedback.  I hate “developmental” feedback.  I pretend sometimes to appreciate it, but I resist it fiercely inside my mind.

I am pretty sure that I am not alone.

I rationally know that it is the developmental feedback that can most help me improve, but I find it very hard in the moment to accept it and work with it.  I feel it as a personal attack, not as an objective opinion of a friendly student who wholeheartedly wishes to see the institution of IESE Business School improve with their advice.

What do you do to “accept” developmental feedback?  Are there any things that have changed your willingness to be open to and even seek out developmental feedback?


Can we teach Entrepreneurs?

I am in Kona, on the west coast of the big island of the Hawaiian islands.  I am in Hawaii for a workshop later this week.  10 entrepreneurs who are part of the global leadership of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation are meeting to pull together our ideas on how we can accelerate and deeper the teaching of entrepreneurial leadership – firstly within the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, but for me this is a wider question of the teaching of something that may or may not be “teachable”.

This post is a brain-dump of some thoughts, and a lot of questions.  I don’t try to answer too much, but would love you to help me think through this question:

Can entrepreneurship be taught?

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan

Why do some teenagers set up some business on the side while others settle with a summer job at MacDonalds?  Is it because of their parent’s influence, beliefs, risk profiles?  Maybe because of a role model?

Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs all famously dropped out of college to focus on building their business. Did they learn enough in the years of school they had already attended? Or did they learn little from school that made a difference in building a company?

I doubt that “dropping-out” is a key skill in entrepreneurship. However, I do know that sometimes you have to close off all other possibilities and commit 100% to one thing. If I have a degree, and an MBA, and a job offer… I am much more likely to give up on building my business when times are tough.

If some of entrepreneurship can be taught, what would it look like?

My own MBA course on entrepreneurship focused on how to write a business plan. You got an “A” for a well written, well researched, well presented business plan. A completed 40-60 page word document with plenty of excel tables in the appendix and some sensitivity analysis on the key assumptions. This is not entrepreneurship. It is consulting.

MBA courses have adapted in the 10 years since my MBA. Now, the lean startup of Steve Blank and Eric Ries has done a great job in getting students to really create a business as part of the course. They have to sell a few products, they have to iterate, they have to pull together techie help to build something. Entrepreneurship has moved away from writing word documents, to getting out of the building and interacting with suppliers, clients, banks and potential employees.

Another huge growth in the education of entrepreneurs are the accelerator programs such as Seedcamp, Seekrocket, Y-Combinator, Smartcamp etc. These bring aspiring entrepreneurs together with “experts” and mentors – experienced entrepreneurs who have already built a business.

My friend Luis-Martin Cabiedes, a prominent angel investor in the spanish digital startup community recently complained that most startup incubators focus on crafting a good pitch to investors. He asks “where is the execution, where is the team building, where is the finance?”. There is clearly much more to successful entrepreneurship than a good elevator pitch. Sales is a vitally important component of entrepreneurship, but it is not all that is required.

Some of My Big Questions:

  • What is the right balance between “happy” entrepreneur and “impactful” entrepreneur? Are they the same thing?
  • How to help grow intuition (or gut feel)?  How to help people trust intuition, without losing the humility to check their beliefs/ideas/assumptions/plans with others? (Leadership’s great balancing act: The Need for Self-Belief vs The dangers of Self-Delusion)
  • How to manage Student Evaluation of Learning – the balance between “The feeling of Learning” vs “Real learning happening”.  A lot of entrepreneurship learning is “Edutainment” –  driven by immediate student 1-10 evaluations of the presenters – tends to push towards “the feeling of I am learning” vs The ugly discomfort of being faced by challenges that overwhelm your current level of expertise/capacity.
  • How to create consistency of Learning – often there is no connection between one speaker and another, tools, concepts, priorities.  One mentor will say “you need lots of cash”, another will say “bootstrap!!!”.  Is there a base-line knowledge for beginning entrepreneurs?
  • How to connect local entrepreneurs and keep them motivated by regularly meeting with other’s who face similar challenges?  The most powerful benefit of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation is Forum – a formally moderated monthly meeting of 8-12 entrepreneur peers.  This meeting keeps me motivated, gives me a powerful resource to seek answers to my entrepreneurial challenges.
  • Humans are blind to what we don’t know… how to create context in which Entrepreneur’s realize that there is more to learn, that their current skills/capabilities/knowledge need to be improved?  A lot of entrepreneurs were bored at school.  I learnt to research stuff in my own way and not to rely on teachers.  I tend to assume I can learn things better with google, wikipedia and a few good books from amazon.
  • How to help people “depreciate” old knowledge/models?  Often what worked in the past will be repeated… it is very, very hard to get someone to stop doing/believing something (much harder than giving them new knowledge or skills)
  • “What is Essence” vs “What is Accident” in Success/Leadership/People Selection? What are the base core values that must be developed to Lead in Entrepreneurial context? Which are “trainable”? Which are innate (or learnt so young so as to be considered innate)?

What questions am I missing?  What resources would you suggest I use?  

4 Great Posts on Communication and Leadership

How to Give a Killer Presentation

Chris Anderson, Owner of TED
Presentations rise or fall on the quality of the idea, the narrative, and the passion of the speaker. It’s about substance, not speaking style or multimedia pyrotechnics. It’s fairly easy to “coach out” the problems in a talk, but there’s no way to “coach in” the basic story—the presenter has to have the raw material. If you have something to say, you can build a great talk. But if the central theme isn’t there, you’re better off not speaking. Decline the invitation. Go back to work, and wait until you have a compelling idea that’s really worth sharing.  Read More


The Inconvienient Truth about Change Management –

McKinsey & Company
Conventional change management approaches have done little to change the fact that most change  programs fail. The odds can be greatly improved by a number of counterintuitive insights that take into account the irrational but predictable nature of how employees interpret their environment and choose to act.  Read More


11 Simple Concepts to Become a Better Leader

Dave Kerpen
All 11 concepts are simple, and yet, perhaps in the name of revenues or the bottom line, we often lose sight of the simple things – things that not only make us human, but can actually help us become more successful. Read More


5 Models for Leading Change

Tristan Wember
In this article we introduce five models for leading change. No single model isright. However, they all have something valuable on offer and can help us to navigate our way through complex organisational situations or circumstances.  Read More

Conformity and Submission to Authority (“Willful Blindness”)

I am sitting in the auditorium at IESE Business School listening to Margaret Heffernan speak about her book “Willful Blindness”.  She is a wonderful speaker, sharing both clear framework of ideas and specific personal experiences.

Margaret Heffernan speaking at Growth Summit 2013

I have scribbled about 5 pages of notes on her material, but will limit this blog post to discuss two dangers of human beings when in hierarchical groups (ie companies, governments, bureaucracys, schools, etc!)

The human being is evolutionarily designed to follow orders, and to fit in.  He is more likely to give the leader the answer he guesses that the leader would like to hear, and that he believes the rest of the group would agree with.  It is something that operates at a deep, unconscious level in our brains – and good leaders must work hard to help break these habits – otherwise you will always be the last to hear what is really going on in the world.

Fitting In: Conformity

Example of the sheets used in the original Asch Conformity experiments

Solomon Asch showed a group of 8 people two sheets. One sheet showed 3 lines of differing lengths. The other sheet had one single line. The group were asked to identify which of the 3 lines was the same as the single line.

The trick was that 7 of the group were collaborators of the experimenter. They were to indicate a “wrong” line as the same length line.

The question: would the eighth person, the real person, choose the obvious correct answer… or would they conform to the “wrong” answer that all of the others had provided?

What do you think? What would you do? How would it feel after watching 7 others each indicate a “wrong” answer? Would you have the strength to stick to your convictions?

Over 75% of individuals gave a “wrong” response, conforming to the group.

“We do not like to be wrong, but we never want to be alone” Margaret Heffernan

The strength of the human desire to conform is very strong.

Submission to Authority

One of Solomon Asch’s students was Stanley Milgram.  He is famous for his experiment where he showed that 65% of people were willing to administer a fatal electric shock to another person when they were “asked” to do so by an experimenter in a white coat.  The full experiment is described here on wikipedia.

Stanley Miligram said that in situations with authority figures “we switch from wanting to be a good person, to wanting to do a good job”.  Our moral frameworks do not work when the “boss” is in the room.  We seek all possible signals of body language, coded words, question framing to seek to understand what answer the “boss” would like to hear.  If the boss gives any direction, sets the agenda – then the team will submit and conform to answering this way.

What can we do to reduce the Automatic Conformity and Submission?

As leaders of people, Margaret described 3 options to get innovation, the full creative brilliance out of people:

  1. Don’t show up to (some) meetings – let them run without you
  2. Set up parallel teams to investigate ideas – keep them separate, but not competitive
  3. Act as a tester of hypothesis: Ask “What would we expect to see if your hunch/intuition/idea was right?”

Further Resources

The Simple Maths of Leadership

My friend Bill Treasurer’s fourth book “Leaders Open Doors” is now available. In 90 easy to read pages, Bill cuts layers of confusion out of the term “Leadership”.

Bill had an “Aha!” moment about a year ago.  (I mean Aha as in the story of Archimedes in the bath).

Bill has been teaching, coaching and mentoring leaders for over 20 years.  He has worked with CEOs, Presidents, Teachers, Entrepreneurs… but never yet with his children.

Earlier than expected, his moment came. His 5 year old son, Ian, came home from school and with a big smile proclaimed “Guess what, Daddy—I got to be the class leader today!”

This was to be Bill’s big moment…

Bill felt this was the moment where he would finally get to show his 5 year old the value of his lifetime of studying leadership. Bill, looked at his son and asked:

“Really? Class leader? That’s a big deal, little buddy. What did you get to do as the class leader?”

Instead of opening Ian up to Bill’s 20 years of leadership knowledge, in 7 words Ian knocked back his dad’s question with an answer that caused his dad to drop all his expertise, and realise that his son had just described leadership in a far more deep and profound way than he himself had ever managed in 20 years of teaching, speaking, writing and coaching.

Ian’s answer was simple:

“I got to open doors for people!”

…Bill learnt more from his son

In a matter of fifteen seconds, with seven simple words, Ian clarified what’s most important about leadership.

Bill’s new book takes this simple story and shares the simple steps that allow leaders to step up to their real role in society.

About Bill Treasurer

Bill is Chief Encouragement Officer at Giant Leap Consulting and former U.S. High Diver, wants leaders to be a part of opening doors of opportunities for others to thrive, achieve, and lead. The proceeds of his new book, Leaders Open Doors, are being donated to charities that serve children with special needs. Available on Amazon.

The Simple Maths of Leadership

A leader’s job is to open 3 types of doors for people:

  • Doors of Opportunity
  • Doors of Accountability
  • Doors of Discomfort

Resilience: Coping with Setbacks

Time after time I see promising young athletes reach the professional teams, and they don’t make it.  Time and time again I see someone do well in the good times, but then allow one small setback to avalanche into a total personal, business and financial collapse.

Other times someone struggles through the youth ranks, shows no extreme talent, but when they reach the professional team they excel.  Or, a friend uses a small personal crisis to multiply their productivity across all aspects of their life.

What differentiates those that cope with those that do not?

Resilience: Mental Toughness

How do you cope with setbacks?  How do you deal with the blows that life deals you?

Photo Credit: ecstaticist

The 5 levels of Resilience

The five levels of individual Resiliency are:

  1. Able to maintain emotional stability
  2. Able to focus outward: Good problem solving skills
  3. Able to focus inward: Strong inner “selfs”, self-belief
  4. Deliberately practiced procedural habits
  5. Be Water my Friend

Resilience Means Adapting to Adversity

Resilience is the ability to roll with the punches. When stress, adversity or trauma strikes, you still experience anger, grief and pain, but you’re able to keep functioning — both physically and mentally. Resilience isn’t about ignoring it, stoic acceptance or lonely heroics. In fact, being able to reach out to others for support is a key component of being resilient.

Resilience and Mental Health

Resilience offers protection from many mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Resilience can also help offset factors that increase the risk of mental health conditions, such as lack of social support, being bullied or previous trauma.

9 Tips to improve your Resilience

If you’d like to become more resilient, consider these tips:

  • Make every day Meaningful – Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.
  • Get Connected – Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with needed support and acceptance in both good times and bad.
  • Write it Down – Think back on how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. You might write about past experiences in a journal to help you identify behavior patterns.
  • Maintain Hope – You can’t change what’s happened in the past, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
  • Take care of your Health – Include physical activity in your day. Find a night time pattern that allows for good sleep. Eat consciously.
  • Be Proactive. Eat the frog first.
  • Playfulness and Pause. Rest your mind and let it wander through imagined worlds. Mindful imagination can reduce stress (and it improves your immune system).  Play games and act like a kid.  YouTube videos about Goats Shouting Like Humans are stupid, but they do make me laugh insanely.
  • Embrace Creativity Regularly. Participation in music and dance, can have a significant effect in building resilience.
  • Use Procedural Skills –  take advantage of the “procedural learning” part of your brain. Keep practicing the skills you’ve mastered by repetition – like playing piano, ping-pong or drawing pictures. Rote-learned information is what school focussed on – but today it’s all Google-able.  Forget it.  Focus on your procedural skills. These should be exercised and enhanced every day.


10 Things we Hate about Bosses

Great Place to Work Organisation

10 things that employees surveyed last year by the Great Place to Work organisation said contributed to poor management:

  1. Lack of Recognition and Appreciation – employees who believe that managers do not really appreciate the work, energy and effort put in during their days and sometimes evenings
  2. Poor Communication – employees want to find out about their company performance and direction from their boss, not the rumour mill, nor the newspapers
  3. Thoughtless Interaction – passing by without a smile or any acknowledgement
  4. Inconsistent Behaviour – broken promises, it is often the smaller broken promises that really grate upon the employees; say one thing, act differently
  5. Favouritism – we all have favourites, good managers learn to appreciate diversity
  6. Exclusion from Decision Making – the less control employees feel, the greater they suffer from stress
  7. Lack of Clarity and Vision – unclear expectations, unclear connection between the work employees are doing and the overall mission of the company
  8. Egotistical Managers – taking credit and passing blame
  9. Treating Employees like Numbers – a transactional relationship, where emotion and fun has been lost in translation
  10. Ignoring Performance Issues – it frustrates good performers when poor performers are not being challenged

*Based on Great Place to Work employee surveys worldwide

Twelve True Traits of Transformational Leadership

Photo Credit: blurredfoto
  1. Let Go of Things Others Can Do – Avoid busy-ness as a sign of productivity
  2. Encourage Initiative – Allow falling-forward-failure, Destroy comfort-zone; The Institutional Yes
  3. Direction and Discipline – Ensure people have goals and know how they are doing
  4. Excruciating Accountability – hold themselves and others to clear process goals (under own control)
  5. Focus – Don’t dilute energy; Never, ever, ever more than 5 Priorities, and 1 Un-Missable Priority.
  6. Delegate – to challenge, develop and empower people
  7. Coach – to ensure success
  8. Reinforce Good Attempts – Reward thoughtful action, not “correctness”
  9. Share Everything – resources, information, knowledge and skills
  10. Value Each Individual – with Trust and Respect
  11. Give Questions, not Answers – Provide support without taking over
  12. Practice what they Preach“One should preach every day; if necessary, use words” St Francis of Assisi

Reading on Leadership

3 Leadership Lessons from Carlos Ghosn

In the last issue of IESE Insight magazine, Carlos Ghosn offered three key lessons he has learned during his career.

Carlos Ghosn at IESE
  1. First, he said, “Every problem has a solution,” but business leaders have to be prepared to pay the personal or collective price that will come with a given solution.
  2. Second, things have to get worse before they get better. “It’s easier to improve a company in trouble than a company with an average performance,” he said.
  3. His third lesson was that “you learn management by doing” and nothing is as instructive as highly stressful situations. When faced with adversity, often “you cannot sleep, you cannot eat,” he said, but in the end, such situations are often what teach managers the most.

What lessons have you learnt?

What would you share?

Thanks to Sergio C. for alerting me to these wise words from Carlos Ghosn.

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