A business mistake and subsequent feedback results in more effective leadership

Written on:November 15, 2012

How an international SVP uses optimism and constructive criticism to overcome his perceived failure.



“Hue” oversaw production for a global pharmaceutical company’s Chinese subsidiary in Beijing for three years. Shortly before the company administered a 360-degree feedback evaluation, the characteristically pessimistic Senior Vice President made a several-million-dollar mistake affecting his organization.

In my role, I conducted 90-minute interviews with the company’s top talent to help each come up with an individual development plan from the different assessment tools. These included an objective managerial skills exercise, and 360-degree feedback, a multi-rater feedback tool. Hue felt reluctant to participate because of his recent self-perceived “failure.” He started our conversation by saying he could spare only 50 minutes for our meeting since, without even having seen the report, he would not believe all the expected negative feedback. He was sure the “Recency Effect”—causing people to recall and focus on events happening most recently—would skew his results.



At first, I let him talk and release his frustration about his situation. Unable to see any of his talents, he focused only on his shortcomings. We talked through his numbers and some qualitative comments, which did report negative results because of the situation he created.

But, I worked to give him a different slant on the information. I asked him what positive information came out of it and what he learned. He began to see that most of his constituents still saw him in a positive manner and suggested ways he could improve. This changed his attitude. After an hour and a quarter, he asked if I could take more time with him to complete our review of the report.



We spent another half hour focusing on what he could learn from his mistakes. Hue realized bad feedback wouldn’t kill him and he could actually use it to improve. He felt positive about what he learned from the feedback. He acknowledged the pain, but also found value in the results.

The next day, all of the company’s top talent presented what they learned from their evaluations. Hue’s presentation showed he had learned more than the others, as he was the only one to specify ways he wanted to change and improve.

When I met with Hue six months later, he expressed his gratitude for my help in overcoming some of his negativity. He had learned to receive feedback “American-style,” as a starting point for improvement rather than criticism. He no longer saw feedback as a threat to his competence and, therefore, felt more open to it. He had evolved into a much more effective leader.


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