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Unwrapping the Gift of Feedback: Why You Should Take What You Need and Discard the Rest

Recently, a colleague gave me some feedback after a meeting that made me pause — they had used the adjective “diplomatic” to describe me. I left the conversation feeling seen, supported, and appreciated! A few years ago, an anonymous 360-assessment comment described me as “meek,” leaving me perplexed and flustered. This comment triggered my internal insecurities.

At that moment, my mind buzzed with questions and doubts. What kind of leader was I? Was I the confident, assertive person I wanted to be? Or was I fooling myself?

All I knew was that feedback wasn’t always easy to hear. Sometimes it made you question everything you thought you knew about yourself.

It can be difficult to accept feedback as a gift when statistics show the disproportionate criticism female leaders face compared to men. A study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership of 201 men and women showed that 33% of female workers are more likely to be labeled “bossy” than their male counterparts (17%). Contrary to popular belief, women are not bossier — they are just twice as likely to be labeled that way in the workplace. In fact, “bossy” women were seen as less successful and popular than their male colleagues.

Sometimes, feedback is entrenched in unconscious biases related to gender and racial/ethnic stereotypes and misperceptions about who a leader is, how a leader sounds, and what a leader looks like. For example, women of color face greater feedback disparities. The Black Women Thriving report surveyed 1,431 Black women in the U.S. and found that they had to “be constantly vigilant” to contradict stereotypes. They noted that this “unhealthy and unsustainable” requirement of being on guard was exhausting.

Similarly, the Gallup Center on Black Voices, a research initiative highlighting the experiences of over 40 million Black Americans, discovered that Black women in the workplace feel less respected and valued as team members.

The way feedback is offered, despite good intentions, also can derail the receiver’s leadership career. Consider various factors, such as the person delivering the feedback, the timing, and the content. Feedback has its advantages. It’s a skill that gets better with intention and practice.  

With time, I learned to trust my unique leadership style, focusing on strengths rather than perceived shortcomings. I realized that feedback was simply an opinion, and what I did with it mattered.

Let this story leave you with one point: Consider all feedback, but use your judgment to decide what’s valuable to your growth.

If this post struck a chord with you, please share your reflections and opinions:

  1. How would you describe yourself and your leadership skills?
  2. What feedback have you received about how you show up or manage complex tasks?
  3. Do these assessments line up with how you view yourself? 

Shakima “Kima” Tozay is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker whose government career spans over 15 years, beginning in the U.S. Navy. Kima has dedicated her career to serving the military community in various roles across diverse settings and agencies.  Her current position is as a Medical Social Worker serving Veterans. She is also a Social Work doctoral student at the University of Alabama. Kima is a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP®). She also holds certifications in Executive Leadership from Graduate School, USA, and a certificate from Stanford University in Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion for Organizational Excellence. Connect with Kima on LinkedIn.

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