Feedback is not the gift you want but the gift you need

New elective focuses on self-awareness and emotional self-control.


Good feedback done well is rare. Perhaps that’s why appraisal season sees even – or especially – the most hardened executives cringing at the prospect. But, “while feedback may not be the gift you want, it’s the gift you need,” says Adjunct Professor Richard Jolly, who teaches LBS’s popular Interpersonal Dynamics course.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Jolly explains: “As you become more senior all you do is relationships. When you’re in the boardroom you’re not doing Excel. Just building relationships. Self-awareness helps you handle yourself. And emotional self-control is critical for developing relationships.”

Even the best 360° feedback in business tends to be to some degree homogenous; limited to views sourced from a single firm in a single sector. This new elective – open to MBAs, Executive MBAs and students from LBS’s Leadership, International Exchange and Early Careers programmes – offers an altogether different and more wide-ranging set of candid feedback experiences from diverse minds representing different functions, sectors and almost 40 nationalities.

“Working in study groups over a period of three months, students get to know one another and develop the intimacy and psychological safety that’s required to land and receive meaningful feedback,” says Jolly.

We are all familiar with the drawn out process that feedback can be, replete with unwieldy and often dreaded forms. But on this elective the feedback you are exposed to couldn’t be more different, including feedback on what first impressions you give, what people in your personal and professional life see as your strengths, as well as the core feedback session in the course. “It might be the shortest and most powerful feedback in your career,” Jolly suggests.

Each participant gets to hear two things that would excite study group members about working for them and two things that would concern them. Each member of the group also plots where they see you on task versus management behaviours and gives you a ‘gift’. This is not a pay rise! Think more creative – a rubber band for you to connect people better, or a whistle to draw more attention to your ideas.

“If you can be curious about the feedback others have for you, resist the urge to be defensive and take time to smell the flowers”, says Jolly, “the experience can be incredibly powerful.”

30-year-old Australian engineer and Executive MBA Jason Andrews, says of the course: “It has made me curious about the impression I’m creating. I’m more mindful now of my default and I take time to step back and ask myself what’s the best way I can do this?” 

While feedback is not always a shower of glory, and both the positives and negatives can be difficult to hear, Jolly reminds us: “If they’re not saying it to your face, they’re probably saying it behind your back – you don’t want to be the last to know what others think of you. This feedback exercise teaches students how empowering it is to get transparency.”