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Podcast Summary: Mellody Hobson on Taking Tough Feedback


Criticism hurts, but pain is often the shortest distance between you and change. Many people shun criticism, but what if you were to view it as a gift, even when it comes from people you don’t necessarily respect or even like? In this episode of his Re:Thinking podcast, organizational psychologist Adam Grant interviews Mellody Hobson, the president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments and the chairperson of Starbucks Corporation, about her views on feedback and representation in the workplace.


  • Feedback is a gift, not a right. Search for the nugget of truth in all feedback, even if it comes from an enemy or rival.
  • If someone is kind enough to give you feedback, don’t fall apart and expect them to put you back together.
  • Don’t shy away from conflict. Stand up for your values, because people are counting on you.

Podcast Summary: Mellody Hobson on Taking Tough Feedback


Feedback is a gift, not a right. Search for the nugget of truth in all feedback, even if it comes from an enemy or rival.

When you’re on the receiving end of feedback, heed three truths:

View feedback as a gift. You’re not entitled to it.

Be receptive to all feedback, regardless of who is sending it. Your willingness to analyze the feedback objectively, and subsequently accept or reject it, shouldn’t depend on whether you like or respect the giver.

If you receive similar feedback from several people, there’s certainly some truth in it. Search for the grain of truth; it might help you improve.

“I want people to just tell me the truth as they see it, not to try to sugarcoat the feedback or to serve me some kind of feedback sandwich that never tastes as good as it sounds on the menu.” (Adam Grant)

When sharing feedback with a co-worker or employee, don’t divulge everything that’s on your mind. Stick to mission-critical issues that could be the difference between success and failure. The popular “feedback sandwich” method – book-ending negative criticism between positive feedback of what the person is doing well – undermines your authenticity. Resolve to be honest, but remember that you can be honest without being brutal.

If someone is kind enough to give you feedback, don’t fall apart and expect them to put you back together.

Mellody Hobson, the co-CEO of Ariel Investments, once received feedback from Bill Bradley, a former US Senator and basketball hall-of-famer. Bradley told Hobson that she could be a “ball-hog,” running rough-shod over other people. The feedback hurt, but Hobson fought back the urge to cry. She knew that if she cried, Bradley would never give her feedback again.

“You receive feedback in any way that someone gives it to you. It doesn’t have to be packaged for you to receive it…If we live in a society where all feedback has to be couched in some kind of terms, you won’t get people’s authentic truth.” (Mellody Hobson)

Hobson prefers to work with resilient people, those who view feedback as growth opportunities and who don’t fall apart when she offers criticism. Hobson sets clear expectations and is candid with her employees. If someone reacts poorly to her feedback, she becomes skeptical that they are the right fit for leadership positions. Don’t create a situation where people who give you feedback have to dry your tears or rebuild your confidence. They are not responsible for your emotional needs.

Don’t shy away from conflict. Stand up for your values, because people are counting on you.

Hobson is the first Black woman to become a chairperson in an S&P 500 company. She embraces her difference and remains “unapologetically Black” and “unapologetically a woman,” even when she’s the only Black woman in the room. Hobson navigates environments dominated by white men daily. A friend once told her, “You are not threatened, and non-threatening. You’re kind, but you’re not soft. And you’re strong, but you’re not tough. That is a real skill.”

As a child, Hobson’s mother taught her that she could do or be anything, but her mother also gave her a realistic view of the obstacles she would face. Now, Hobson teaches her own daughter that she can be or do anything, but she also reminds her that other people can do or be anything, too.

As a leader, Hobson invests time in the success of her employees, even when it means promoting them right out of the company. She feels duty bound to help others up the career ladder, as she recognizes the positive role that supportive mentors have played in her own life. When you genuinely invest in others’ success, you’ll earn a great reputation in return.

“Invite people in your life who don’t look like you, who don’t think like you, who don’t act like you and who don’t come from where you come from.” (Mellody Hobson)

When your workplace gives lip service to diversity, but the actual numbers don’t support the company’s commitment to that value, hold people accountable. Have a goal – not a quota – in place; without one, you won’t see the numbers improve. To increase diversity, count the number of diverse workers by ethnicity at each level of the organization. Don’t consider all ethnicities as one multi-ethnic group or count the number of minority workers across the company as a whole. Such a move “masks under-representation.” When it comes to stamping out racism in the workplace, Hobson cites Martin Luther King’s idea that it’s the silence of the good person that kills. Your voice matters. Have a backbone. Speak up.

About the Podcast

Mellody Hobson is the president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments, the chairperson of Starbucks Corporation, and the former chairperson of DreamWorks Animation. Organizational psychologist and author Adam Grant is the host of the podcast Re:Thinking.

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