Leading change is extremely hard. It challenges the organization’s status quo, interrupts peoples’ assumptions and comfort zones, and creates an often uneasy unknown or unconfirmed future for the organization. Thus, obstacles and resistance to change are often consistent and come from many sources up, down, across, and even external to the organization. Leading change can easily feel overwhelming and unsuccessful at so many points through the process.
But leading change is inherent and essential to leadership. I think back to Jim Mattis’s comments in his book, Call Sign Chaos, claiming that a “leader must be willing to change and make change.” Leaders must get results for their organization and stakeholders absolutely, but I truly believe that alone is insufficient. Leaders must also make the organization and others better; organizational change is critical to effective leadership. Continue reading → Activating the Levers of Organizational Change
Leading through crisis has certainly been the hot topic on leadership over the last five months since COVID hit the US. There is no shortage of new work addressing the challenges of and need to lead through crisis well; a simple internet search can offer hundreds of perspectives and ideas. It is an important topic to discuss, though. A crisis can be defined as a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point. A crisis can threaten the wellbeing of our people and mere existence of our organizations; crisis requires effective leadership.
While recognizing the importance of leading well through crisis, I initially chose not to write on the topic. I felt I had no relevant or fresh perspectives to offer on it. But then a friend asked if I would share some personal thoughts on the topic for his blog (below and here). While I was happy to share and humbled by the consideration, I did not feel passionate or qualified on the topic. To be honest, I ended up writing about what I call my “leadership philosophy”: how I intend to authentically lead regardless of circumstances or environment. I think I subconsciously did that to send the message that leaders need to remain authentic to themselves and committed to the organization as they were before the crisis; we don’t merely alter our leadership in response to a crisis. Continue reading → My Hard Lesson Learned in Leading Through Crisis
I did not take ownership of my professional development and deliberately commit toward self-development until almost four years into my military career. But even when I did start with habits like developmental reading, choices such as my book selection and approach were not intentional; my efforts were scattered and random. And it was still years after starting until I discovered personal book favorites that had major impacts on my life and leadership. I have spent years since then repeatedly saying, “I wish I read (or knew about) this years ago before I was a platoon leader or company commander.”
I share this to disclose something I have come to eventually realize: that our self-development efforts can be frustrating sometimes. My efforts over the years are littered with feelings of personal regret and disappointment for not knowing or doing the things I learn through self-development earlier. After I gain new knowledge or ideas on how to lead better through my self-development habits, I quickly default to thinking, “I wish I knew this years ago!” and “this would have made me a better platoon leader or commander.”
About 9 months ago, I wore my Army uniform for the last time and set foot inside the business sector as a civilian. After 16 years of Soldiering, I am head first into the business world as an operations manager. I have heard so much (specifically from my civilian leadership) about the differences in leadership styles that I must now adhere to because, “this isn’t the Army anymore, and you cannot treat team members like Soldiers.”
Here is the thing, though: it isn’t different. Not really…not at all, actually. And here’s why.
Feedback within the realm of leadership is a challenging topic. There are so many subjective dynamics to delivering it well, integrating it across our teams, and using it to improve our leadership and performance. Yet, despite its complexities, feedback is critical for our leader growth and team performance. Through this Feedback Primer, I aimed to provide everything I have learned and experienced on feedback in a commonsense way to help you and your people. Over this Primer, we have looked at: Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 6: Conclusion – Now Get Out There and Get Started!
After spending much of this Feedback Primer saturated in abstract concepts about feedback, I want to offer some tangible ideas to consider moving forward. My hope is that by sharing three examples of organizational feedback loops, we can see how all the concepts introduced in this Primer so far integrate to materialize quality developmental feedback for ourselves as leaders, and for our people. More importantly, I hope sharing these examples inspires and equips leaders to create their own. Adopting these examples is certainly feasible, but I challenge you, as leaders, to think how you can adapt them to best fit your team’s specific needs, contexts, and restrictions.
Through our openness to and desire for feedback from others as a leader (addressed in part 3), we have hopefully begun to inspire others to do the same. Following this, it is time we expand these efforts to a collective level. We, the leaders, must create feedback loops for our people and team. We must own and innovate mechanisms to allow feedback to permeate throughout the team; we are not merely victims of our organizational circumstances and should not wait for “them at corporate” or “higher” to create these systems for us. Such feedback loops within the team do require some creativity, leader time investment, and commitment – but it is possible with resources that are universally available. We can start this now. Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 4: Innovating Feedback Across Your Team
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
One of the most common feedback comments I’ve received in my career, primarily during discussions about my evaluation or during routine feedback sessions with a boss, has been “keep doing what you’re doing.” While the knowledge that there were no glaring issues in my organization’s or my performance was reassuring, that comment provided no actual feedback. It didn’t educate me on the specifics of things going well or what could still be improved. Hearing this repeatedly over my career has shown me that not only is merely giving feedback hard, but giving relevant and high-quality feedback is even harder! Leaders need to be mindful about sharing their feedback – their “truth in love” – ensuring that it is timely, relevant, high-quality, and well-delivered.
This requires a few things. First, leaders need to ‘get in the arena’ and begin practicing. Like a muscle, to be developed, giving feedback needs to be repeatedly stressed. Research from Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman revealed that no one likes to give negative feedback, but everyone wants to hear it. Essentially, they found that only 1 out of every 2 people are willing to give positive feedback, which is mind-blowing, and only 1 out of 3 are willing to give negative feedback. However, 2 of every 3 people actively desire positive feedback and 5 of every 6 people desire negative feedback. Essentially, we all say we want to be told the hard truth, but are unwilling to share it with others.
So, leaders need to get in the arena of feedback, role-modeling and inspiring their people to do the same, which we discuss in part 3. We need to get in the arena to start practicing and being able and willing to give others feedback (and to receive it from them). But through our practice, and with some education, we need to work on improving the quality, relevance, and delivery of our feedback to ensure it lands well with our people. I hope this part of The Feedback Primer can provide some of that critical education. Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 2: Being Mindful in Sharing Our “Truth in Love”
This simple truth is the capstone of what I’ve learned while being in my own “leadership arena” over the last two years. You’re not feeling satisfied or engaged at work? It likely stems from a lack of feedback on your work revealing the impacts of your efforts. Surprised and disappointed by your recent annual evaluation marks? This is a novel feeling because your supervisors failed to provide relevant, consistent, and constructive feedback over time. Is our team not meeting performance metrics or is just plain mediocre? It’s likely because we have not integrated accountability and feedback in our routine ways of doing business on the team.
Recently, I had a Cadet that I mentor share with me his dissatisfaction with the unclear methods of distributing evaluation marks (referencing organizational justice) across his company, the lack of supervisor engagement with subordinates, and the overall lack of feedback occurring across the chain of command. He truly didn’t even care about his subpar evaluation score. Simply, he stated, “Sir, I just want more feedback.”
I think we can all relate. Looking back on my own 10-year Army career so far, I can count the number of times I felt that I have received quality and relevant constructive feedback on one hand. Clearly, that is not sufficient for sustained leader growth and improvement.
Bottom line: we as humans and as leaders suck at feedback. We suck at giving others feedback and we suck at receiving feedback from others. We need to get better in actually doing it (the act of routinely giving and receiving feedback) and at doing it well (ensuring our feedback is high-quality). Improvement requires education, commitment, and repetition. I hope this primer provides you the education necessary to equip and inspire you to “get in the feedback arena” with your people, commit, and begin the important life-long journey of mastering feedback to improve your own leadership effectiveness as well as your peoples’ and team’s performance. Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 1: Let’s Start with Why