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It’s Lonely At The Top—And 2 Things You Can Do Today to Change That

It’s Lonely At The Top—And 2 Things You Can Do Today to Change That

By Dr. Chris White

10 years ago


educators, feedback, leadership,



It’s Lonely At The Top—And 2 Things You Can Do Today to Change That

As educators, the more you move up, the lonelier it can be. And I don’t just mean you have less office mates or lunch partners! One of the biggest ways — and I would argue by far one of the most risky — is that we become lonely at the top in regard to having truthtellers around us.  I’ll admit, as a teen and young adult I was quite defensive toward feedback. tourist attrations . I didn’t seek it out and I didn’t respond well to what I received.

But as a more “mature” adult (I didn’t say old!), I really do want to know about my blind spots and would rather someone just tell me. Otherwise I’ll learn the hard way once again! Part of the reason it’s lonely at the top is because not many people give feedback upstream. It’s too risky for their careers, not to mention that even if the leader themselves isn’t particularly intimidating, his or her position certainly is.

Action Item #1 – Know Your Feedback Door
So the first thing we can do to combat this is to be aware of what I call our Feedback Door.  There are 5 stages for your door, so see which one you are, below.

Stage 1: Feedback Door is deadbolt locked from the inside. Uh-oh, nobody getting in here!  These people are impossible to give feedback to, and they are signing their names next to the line, “I choose to grow slower!”

Stage 2: Feedback Door is key locked. In this stage, a select few people with just the right key can get in, but the vast majority of people can’t get in. People in stage 2 have a dangerously tiny circle of people who can speak truth to them.

Stage 3: Feedback Door is unlocked. Ok, so anybody can get in this door, right? Yes, but the majority of people don’t know what’s on the other side of that door so they won’t take the chance. A few brave souls will step up and open the door, but even some of those might quickly close the door once they see what’s on the other side.

Stage 4: Feedback Door is cracked open. Now we’re getting there. Anybody can walk up and at least peek inside and hope it’s not too dark or that they get bitten by something!  But there’s still a little bit of uneasiness with this stage.

Stage 5: Doorknob is in the sheetrock. In this stage, obviously the door is wide open. And it’s so wide open that the doorknob is stuck in the sheetrock. Nothing hidden when you walk up to it and no threat of it suddenly closing on you. What does this look like behaviorally? This would be an educator who is open to feedback regardless of the delivery. So many people in other Feedback Door stages are picky eaters when it comes to feedback. This group is the opposite — they proactively seek out feedback, they find the nugget in the feedback they get, and they respond positively to the messenger to ensure the pipeline stays open. Would your fellow educators rate you in Stage 5? What about those in your personal life?

Action Item #2 – Ask Great Questions
The second thing you can do is to make the feedback exchange easier. One way to do this is to proactively ask versus waiting for someone to initiate the exchange. When doing so, use leading question such as, “I sounded _____, didn’t I?” (defensive, stubborn, hypersensitive, etc.) or “I know I can come across as _____, so let me know if you pick up on that.”

Also, avoid intimidating words, ironically such as the word feedback. “I really want your feedback!” can be quite intimidating to most people, especially since you are in a more senior position in the education field. Try other phrases such as, “I’d love to hear any food for thought on how the board meeting could have been better” or “I’d love to brainstorm on any ways to help me serve the staff better.”

In summary, know your feedback door and beat them to the feedback exchange by asking great questions first. Then you’ll have less feedback loneliness at the top!


Dr. Chris White

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