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.
“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”
If I were to define my “leadership philosophy,” or maybe the top three ways I prefer to lead, I’d articulate it as: leading with love; generating high engagement across the team; and creating clarity for everyone on who we are, what we do, and why we do it. It’s easy to see how important effective communication and use of clear language are when trying to live out that philosophy each day.
Moreover, a mentor of mine taught me years ago: “use precise words precisely.”
While my amateur writing my not live up to those standards, I’m sure all can see that the bottom line is: our language is a critical component to our effectiveness as leaders and developers of other leaders. Even the details of how we structure a question, statement, or word choice can have meaningful impacts.Continue reading → Words Matter – The Importance of Our Language as Leaders
Any time I interact with someone I lead, I see it as a deliberately developmental opportunity. Through our interaction(s), I aim to grow their knowledge, skills, and/or abilities in some way. Any time I am communicating as a leader, I am engaging in one of five types of developmental communication: setting expectations, giving feedback, teaching, coaching, or mentoring.
I leverage the appropriate type based on the person, the situation, and context. Should I be giving targeted feedback in this moment or should I be helping them better understand by providing perspective as a mentor? Should I set clear expectations or would it be better to coach them through determining their own ideas and plans?
These types can be applied at the individual level (one-on-one) or collective (to a small group, your whole team, etc.). Further, these can all be done in formal or informal settings. For example, feedback can be given formally in a scheduled meeting where you provide planned and thought-out feedback on performance for an evaluation report. Or, it can be offered informally in the moment if someone is failing to meet basic standards or expectations.
I believe too many leaders in the 21st century have lost the art of giving quality and relevant feedback to their people. Such feedback has become a novel experience for so many. In my own experiences within a nine-year career in the Army, I can only recall four instances where I received relevant, eye-opening feedback from a boss or peer that challenged my current ways of thinking and assumptions about my performance. Such feedback cannot be so novel if we desire to become an organization that prioritizes leader development.
This is so challenging, though, because it requires leaders to no longer hide by either using position to be exempt from receiving feedback or not demonstrating the courage to tell the truth about others’ performance. We must demonstrate the candor and care for our people to tell the truth, which makes our 2nd and 3rd generation leaders better and more inspired to keep getting better. This is what leaders “getting in the arena” is about. With practice and time, we become more comfortable in telling the truth to our leaders about their performance, growth, and potential, no longer making it such a novel experience in the work place. Ultimately, we hope that quality feedback (truth shared in love and care for our team members) becomes a commonplace and routine method of leader development that goes up, down, and across the organizational chart. Continue reading → Getting in the Arena: Creating a Culture of Truth & Feedback
I have two whiteboards in my office; a 4×3 ft. one for big subjects and a 2×1.5 ft. “lap-sized” board for smaller scale ones. I’m using one of those whiteboards, if not both, every single day. I use them while counseling my Cadets, for teaching moments to help them make sense of new ways of thinking, and of course, to post the weekly #whiteboardwednesday quote. In fact, I just used my lap-board to draw out the first diagram below for one of my Cadets learning how to create developmental experiences for his subordinate.
I share this to communicate a key leader-developer lesson I’ve learned over the last year: every interaction I have with one of my Cadets is a “developmental communication” opportunity. I view every conversation I have with them, at an individual or collective level, through a developmental lens where I can teach, coach, mentor, or counsel. This applies to discussions in my office, passing a Cadet in the barracks hallway, during room inspections, training, meetings, a formal leader development session, or even running into them outside of the barracks on the way to/from class. Leaders can apply this same lens to their own people and organizational context. Continue reading → On-the-Job Development: Leaders as Teachers & Coaches
Goal-setting can be an effective tool for leaders to provide challenge, focus, and motivation to their people. Unfortunately, this tool is often underutilized or poorly implemented. I recently showcased how it can be poorly implemented; this is a lesson learned from personal failure.
As part of my role in advising and coaching Cadets through their summer training leadership assignments, I intended to make goal-setting an important component of our initial counseling. During these counselings, I aimed to not only outline the Cadets’ roles and responsibilities for the summer, but to allow them to develop some personal goals for their assignment to help maximize the developmental impact of their experience. I found that I ran into one major issue during these counseling sessions while working with the Cadets to form their goals: the goals they created were poorly defined and incomplete, preventing our ability to track progress and achievement over the five-week experience. The Cadets were creating goals around the right ideas, but they were just incomplete ones. We established goals such as “to delegate and empower my subordinates as much as possible” or “to become better organized and more efficient with my time.” Great ideas, but they have no way of showing tangible progress. That was a failure on my part as the formal leader in the situation. I was not making this an effective developmental tool for the Cadets; it turned into more of a “check the block” requirement with little potential for impact. Continue reading → A Model of Effective Goal-Setting for Leaders
No one grows as a leader without the support from others, which includes superiors, peers, and even subordinates alike. We need people to help make sense of our experiences and of the world. We are often familiar with developmental relationships where we learn from the experience of others, such as through mentoring and on-the-job learning from superiors within your chain of command. Further, many are gaining familiarity with the idea of coaching as a leadership tool, which you can read more about HERE.
Beyond these developmental relationships, which tend to be an “up-down” relationship (a relationship between a superior and subordinate), there is still one source often untapped: your professional peers. Properly leveraged, your peers can be your best source of learning, professional encouragement, and accountability. Peer coaching is an ideal structure for reflection and just one more reflective activity to add to your arsenal of leader learning tools. Through reflection and feedback within your peer coaching relationship, you develop a clearer awareness of personal behaviors and beliefs that affect your performance. Further, work experience alone is insufficient to foster effective learning; we require the assistance of a partner. Continue reading → You Need a Peer Coach to Become a Better Leader
Prior to commanding a company, I never gave much thought to evaluations. I am not generally concerned with my own evaluations; I firmly believe that if you take care of your Soldiers and your mission, your evaluation takes care of itself. As a staff officer and platoon leader, I was also never in a position where I was rating or senior rating Soldiers that I didn’t interact with on a daily and professionally intimate basis. Upon assuming command, my pool of subordinates that I rated or senior rated drastically increased. In my 18 months of company command, I rated/senior rated three First Sergeants, three XOs, three Operations Sergeants, nine platoon leaders, nine platoon sergeants, and over a dozen squad leaders. As much as I wanted to and tried, as a company commander, it was not feasible to work with all of these individuals personally, like I could as a platoon leader.