“Improvement begins with I.”
– Arnold H. Glasow
People don’t want a boss, they want a coach, someone to lead them to success. Leadership is more about guiding and developing people than simply being their boss.
How do we lead our team members to success? How do we help them make changes to get them there? One way is through constructive feedback. If past experiences predict what we do in the future, then unless we’re given the opportunity to change, to receive constructive feedback to show us the way, we won’t be able to decide to make a change.
‘Bosses’ give critical feedback, which is often unhelpful and can leverage the mistake of others to make themselves feel better or more superior or more secure. Leaders give constructive feedback that leverages the lessons of the past to improve the future.
“Leaders don’t look for recognition from others, leaders look for others to recognize.” – Simon Sinek
Giving feedback isn’t always easy, especially if we are trying to give difficult feedback in an unhealthy or untrusting relationship. Feedback requires trust from both parties to be believed, to be heard, and to be understood. It also needs to be timely as the stakes escalate when we delay because of fear. That only makes it worse. If you see something, say something. Being courageous means being able to give (and receive) feedback without letting fear get in the way – fear of rejection, fear of not having their best interests at heart, fear of lack of acceptance, etc.
“In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. So rather than thinking, oh, I’m going to reveal my weaknesses, you say, wow, here’s a chance to grow.” – Carol Dweck
There is no one right way to give feedback, no script that is more effective than others, but there are elements to giving feedback that are imperative to making that feedback constructive.
Start with Trust.
“We are imperfect people, working with imperfect people, in imperfect situations.” – Entreleadership. We’re all humans, and we all make mistakes. Share your motives with the person you are giving the feedback to and make sure they know that it’s in THEIR best interests and not our own interests. Be open about the objective of the conversation and share what the desired outcome is.
Example: “John, you always have great ideas in our weekly meetings and I value that and want you to succeed. But if you want to continue on this team, you will need to arrive for each meeting on time, as your tardiness impacts the whole group.” (Not, “John, you’re always late; show up on time.” Leader versus Boss.)
“When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer.” – Patrick Lencioni
Assume Positive Intent.
Most people, most of the time, are sincerely trying to do their best. We need to assume this is true, look for the best in people, and TELL our team members that when we’re giving them feedback.
It’s Not about the Person, It’s about the Action.
Affirm the person and identify the action that needs to change. Constructive criticism is always rooted in the belief in someone’s potential, so be clear about the specific actions that prompted the discussion and need for feedback. If there are multiple issues, focus on one at a time so that the individual has time to reflect, adjust, and improve. If you share too many pieces of feedback, it will overwhelm them and the messages will be lost.
“Every large problem in an organization was once a small problem that a leader flailed to address.” – Craig Groeschel
Actively Listen to Understand.
“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” – Simon Sinek Ask questions with a genuine desire to see the issue from their perspective. Listen to what the team member is saying and truly try to understand – this doesn’t mean conceding they’re right and you are wrong, but simply understand their point of view.
Seek to Serve.
The best feedback is given in service of the mission, the team, the individual; being of service is to have their best interest in mind. Ask the team member: “How can I help?” Or offer a plan for next steps.
“We can’t just sit back and wait for feedback to be offered, particularly when we’re in a leadership role. If we want feedback to take root in the culture, we need to explicitly ask for it.” – Ed Batista
Leaders need feedback too. Receiving feedback constructively is equally as important as giving constructive feedback, but we have to have the courage to ask for it, to actively solicit it. But here too, we need to start with trust to make sure we understand the motive behind the feedback.
We need to mentally and emotionally assume positive intent. Assume your team member is looking out for your best interest, that they believe in you and are giving you feedback with positive intent.
We need to listen to understand what they are saying and resist the urge to get defensive. The best way to ensure understanding is to restate in your own words what they said. Try to remove emotion and look at what is what feedback is being shared.
“Examine what is said and not who speaks.” – African proverb.
Honestly evaluate the feedback, be brave and own it. We may need to take some time and space to give it an honest evaluation, but if the feedback rings true, own it and embrace the change you want to make. We need to seek to grow and improve and ask ourselves what our plan is for our own development.
“Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team…If you’re not interested in getting better, it’s time for you to stop leading.” – Patrick Lencioni
When is the last time you asked for feedback? When’s the last time you avoided giving feedback immediately? What will you change today?