Leading with Trust

Most People Don’t Under-Perform, They’re Under-Led – 5 Ways Leaders Sabotage Performance

Slip on Banana PeelNot too many people get out of bed in the morning, head in to work, and say to themselves “I’m really looking forward to screwing up today!” Sure, there are always a few bad apples with horrible attitudes that seem to thrive on getting away with doing the least amount of work possible, but by and large most people want to succeed on the job. So why do we struggle with so many under-performers in the workplace?

“I think most people don’t want to under-perform,” Kathie McGrane, Course Manager/Management Analyst at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said to me in a recent conversation, “they’re just under-led.” Kathie’s insightful comment got me thinking about the ways leaders unknowingly sabotage the performance of their people. Here’s five common ways:

1. They don’t intentionally focus on building trust – Trust is the bedrock foundation of any successful relationship. There isn’t a business or leadership strategy around that will make up for a lack of trust between leaders and followers. Without trust your leadership effectiveness will always be limited. The problem is that most people think trust “just happens,” like some sort of relationship osmosis. The truth is that trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors, and if leaders don’t specifically focus on establishing healthy, high-trust relationships with their people, under-performance will be the norm.

2. Lack of clear goals and expectations – This past week I conducted a job interview and the candidate described the training she received at her previous job. She said “I was given a Sharpie pen, shown to my desk, and told to ‘figure it out.'” A CEO I’ve coached in the past was explaining his frustration about one of his VP’s not “stepping up” to lead like he expected him to. When I asked him if he had made those expectations clear to the individual he replied, “Well, now that you mention it, no, I haven’t.” And we wonder why people under-perform? Your people need to have clear goals and expectations so they know exactly what is required. Make sure they know what a good job looks like.

3. Leaders use the wrong leadership style – When it comes to leadership, one size does NOT fit all. Leaders commonly under or over-supervise people. Under-supervision is when the leader is too hands-off when an employee needs more direction and support on a goal or task. Over-supervision is when the leader micromanages too much when the employee is competent and committed to do the task on his/her own. Leaders need to understand that a person can be at different levels of development on different goals or tasks. Just because an employee may be a superstar in organizing and managing projects, doesn’t mean he/she is a pro at giving presentations to a group of executives. Leaders need to use a variety of leadership styles to give employees the right amount of direction and support they need on each of their job areas.

4. They don’t stay in touch with performance – Leaders not being aware of the performance trends of their employees is often a cause for under-performance. Leaders should have regular one-on-one meetings with their direct reports every 1 to 2 weeks. The one-on-one meeting serves to keep the leader informed of how the employee is doing on his/her goals and tasks, and it allows the employee to ask for needed direction and support. Too often leaders fall prey to “seagull management” – They occasionally fly in, squawk and make a bunch of noise, crap all over the place, and then fly away. Don’t be a seagull manager. Stay in regular touch with your employees so you can give them the day-to-day coaching they need to succeed.

5. Fail to give helpful feedback – Many leaders fail to give any feedback, and when they do, it’s often not very helpful to the employee. One type of feedback is praise. When employees are doing a good job, let them know! A well-timed praising does wonders for developing trust in a relationship. Redirection is another type of feedback that leaders should use when an employee’s performance is off-track. Redirection is specific about what needs to be corrected, timely and relevant to the situation at hand, and about moving forward. Don’t gunny sack feedback and surprise the employee with it at the annual performance review.

When leaders find that employees are under-performing, the first action they need to take is to look in the mirror and examine what they’ve done (or not done) to set the employee up for success. There are certainly situations where leaders will find they’ve done everything possible to help an employee perform at an acceptable level and the best thing is to part ways. However, leaders will often find they’ve unknowingly sabotaged the performance of their people by neglecting some of these leadership fundamentals.

Building Trust in Performance Reviews – Four Ways to “Meet Expectations”

Performance ReviewWhen it comes to building trust through performance evaluations, do you “meet expectations?” The beginning of the year finds many leaders busy preparing and conducting annual performance reviews for their employees. I don’t know of many leaders who are overjoyed at the prospect of spending hours compiling data, completing forms, and writing evaluations for their team members. Most leaders I speak to look at performance reviews as a tedious and mandatory chore they’re obligated to complete and they can’t wait to have the review meeting, deliver the feedback quickly and painlessly, and get on with their “real” work.

With that kind of attitude, it’s no wonder why performance reviews are a dreaded event, both from the supervisor’s and employee’s perspective! The reality is that performance reviews are one-of-a-kind opportunities for leaders to build trust and commitment with their followers. Having the right supporting processes and systems in place are helpful, but regardless of your organization’s approach to performance management, you can build trust with your team members by doing these four things:

1. Deliver candid feedback with care – One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader is to sugarcoat your feedback to an employee. Your employees deserve honest and sincere feedback about how they’re performing so that they have the opportunity to improve, otherwise you are handicapping them and limiting the capabilities of your organization by accepting sub-par performance. Unfortunately, many employees don’t hear about their poor performance until the situation has become critical and they’re put on a performance improvement plan. A look back through their personnel file reveals a series of performance reviews where they’ve met standards and suddenly they’re surprised with this bad news. There shouldn’t be any surprises in a performance review. Through regular conversations during the year, the employee should have received regular feedback about how they’re performing relative to their goals and competencies of their role. I think most people know if they aren’t performing up to snuff. Your people will trust and respect you more if you’re honest with them about their performance.

2. Listen – Don’t do all the talking during the performance review. Yes, you have to review their performance and deliver feedback, but you should also take the time to ask your employees how they felt about their performance. Ask open-ended questions like: “What did you learn this year?” “What would you do differently?” “What did you feel were your biggest successes?” Soliciting the thoughts and opinions of your employees sends the message that you care about what they think and that you don’t assume you have all the answers. You’ll learn valuable insights about what makes your people tick and you can use that information to help plan their future performance. Lending a listening ear is a great way to build trust.

3. Focus on the future – Wait…aren’t performance reviews about reviewing the past? Yes, they are, but in my opinion the real bang for the buck is using that information to focus on growth and development opportunities for your people. Learning from the past is essential, but it’s only valuable if we apply it to the future. What training or education is needed? What are some new stretch goals that can be established? In what ways can the employee leverage his/her strengths with new opportunities? Demonstrating to your employees that you are committed to their career growth builds trust in your leadership and commitment to the organization. Don’t miss this valuable opportunity by solely focusing on the past!

4. Ask for feedback on your leadership – I’m not suggesting you shift the spotlight from your employees to yourself and hijack their review in order to feed your ego, but I am suggesting you ask them two simple questions: “Am I providing you the right amount of direction and support on your goals/tasks?” and “Is there anything I should do more or less of next year to help you succeed?” One of your primary goals as a leader is to accomplish work through others. Their performance is a reflection of your skill as a leader so it’s only appropriate that you use this time to recalibrate the leadership style(s) you’ve been using. It may come as a surprise, but have you thought that the reason why your people aren’t achieving their goals is because you’re not leading them properly? Make sure that’s not the case and get feedback on how you’re doing. Asking for (and graciously receiving) feedback from others is a trust-boosting behavior.

Performance reviews don’t have to be a painful, tedious, mundane task. If you approach them with the right mindset, they can be prime opportunities to build trust with your followers which in turn will help them, and you, to not only meet expectations but exceed them!

Addressing Poor Performance is a “Moment of Trust” – 5 Steps for Success

Addressing poor performance with an employee presents a leader with a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you handle the situation with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can take a leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

Now, I’m the first to admit that having a discussion about an employee’s failing performance is probably the last thing I want to do as a leader. It’s awkward and uncomfortable for both parties involved. I mean, come one, no one likes to hear they aren’t doing a good job. But the way in which the feedback and coaching is delivered can make a huge difference. The key is to have a plan and process to follow. The following steps can help you capitalize on the moment of trust and get an employee’s performance back on track.

1. Prepare – Before you have the performance discussion, you need to make sure you’re prepared. Collect the facts or data that support your assessment of the employee’s low performance. Be sure to analyze the problem by asking yourself questions like:

        1. Was the goal clear?
        2. Was the right training, tools, and resources provided?
        3. Did I provide the right leadership style?
        4. Did the employee receiving coaching and feedback along the way?
        5. Was the employee motivated and confident to achieve the goal?
        6. Did the employee have any personal problems that impacted performance?

2. Describe the problem – State the purpose and ground rules of the meeting. It could sound something like “Susan, I’d like to talk to you about the problem you’re having with the defect rate of your widgets. I’ll give you my take on the problem and then I’d like to hear your perspective.”

Be specific in describing the problem, using the data you’ve collected or the behaviors you’ve observed. Illustrate the gap in performance by explaining what the performance or behavior should be and state what you want to happen now. It could sound something like “In the last week your defect rate has been 18% instead of your normal 10% or less. As I look at all the variables of the situation, I realize you’ve had some new people working on the line, and in a few instances, you haven’t had the necessary replacement parts you’ve needed. Obviously we need to get your rate back under 10%.”

3. Explore and acknowledge their viewpoint – This step involves you soliciting the input of the employee to get their perspective on the cause of the performance problem. Despite the information you’ve collected, you may learn something new about what could be causing or contributing to the decline in performance. Depending on the employee’s attitude, you may need to be prepared for defensiveness or excuses about the performance gap. Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and solicit the employee’s ideas for solving the problem.

4. Summarize the problem and causes – Identify points of disagreement that may exist, but try to emphasize the areas of agreement between you and the employee. When you’ve summarized the problem and main causes, ask if the two of you have enough agreement to move to problem solving. It could sound something like “Susan, we both agree that we need to get your defect rate to 10% or below and that you’ve had a few obstacles in your way like new people on the line and occasionally missing replacement parts. Where we see things differently is that I believe you don’t always have your paperwork, parts, and tools organized in advance the way you used to. While we don’t see the problem exactly the same, are we close enough to work on a solution?”

5. Problem solve for the solution – Once you’ve completed step four, you can then problem solve for specific solutions to close the performance gap. Depending on the employee’s level of competence and commitment on the goal or task, you may need to use more or less direction or support to help guide the problem solving process. The outcome of the problem solving process should be specific goals, actions, or strategies that you and/or the employee will put in place to address the performance problem. Set a schedule for checking in on the employee’s progress and be sure to thank them and express a desire for the performance to improve.

A moment of trust is a precious occurrence that you don’t want to waste. Using this five step process can help you address an employee’s poor performance with candor and care that will leave the employee knowing that you respect their dignity, value their contributions, and have their best interests at heart. That can’t help but build trust in the relationship.

Earning a License to Lead – Could You Pass These 5 Areas?

If you had to take a test to earn a license to lead, would you pass? When it comes to leadership, do you know the rules of the road, what all the traffic signs mean, and how to lead in inclement weather? Sadly enough, we probably require more training and knowledge for someone to drive a car than we do for them to lead people!

Now, just as getting a driver’s license doesn’t automatically make you an excellent driver, passing some imaginary leadership exam wouldn’t qualify you as an outstanding leader. However, it would at least signify that you have a basic level of knowledge to lead safely and not harm others (I see a Dilbert cartoon in here somewhere…). Here’s five critical areas where I think people need to have a basic level of competency in order to earn a license to lead:

1. Building Trust — If you know me or have read anything on this blog, you know that I’m a trust activist (a phrase recently coined by my friend Jon Mertz), and I believe that learning to build high-trust relationships is the defining competency of successful leaders in the 21st century. Being a person of integrity, competence, compassion, and reliability are all crucial elements of being trustworthy. Establishing trust in relationships is the ticket of admission for being a leader, it allows you to get in the game. Once you’re in the game you have the potential to make some great plays if you can do the other things in this list, which by the way, continually build and sustain trust in your leadership.

2. Setting clear goals — Whether it’s communicating a clear vision on the macro-level, or establishing specific goals and actions on a micro-level, good leaders understand that their people need a clear idea of the direction they’re heading and what they’re supposed to do. You’d be surprised at the number of leaders I speak with that express frustration over their people not performing up to expectations and readily admit that they haven’t established or communicated those expectations in the first place!

3. Flexing leadership style to the situation — One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to leadership. Depending on an employee’s level of competence and commitment on a given task or goal, leaders need to use a style that matches the needs of the employee. There will be times where leaders need to be more directive in their style when employees need specific instruction, and other times leaders need to use a more supportive style when the employee knows what to do but just needs a little reassurance. Treating everyone the same in all circumstances is not being “fair,” it’s being one-dimensional.

4. Listening — Just as a good driver pays attention to conditions of the road, pedestrians, and other drivers, top leaders pay attention to how their employees are doing by being a good listener. It’s amazing what you can learn about people by simply listening to them, but being a good listener takes effort. You have to learn to concentrate on what’s being said (or not said), being present in the moment and not letting your mind drift, checking your understanding by asking questions or paraphrasing, and listening to understand and be influenced rather than just waiting to make a counterpoint.

5. Giving feedback — Ken Blanchard likes to say that “Feedback is the breakfast of champions!” For leaders to develop their people into champions, they have to be comfortable in giving both positive and negative feedback. Generally speaking, it’s a whole lot easier (and fun) to deliver positive feedback. Everyone likes delivering good news! It’s a completely different story when it comes to delivering negative feedback. Most of us fall prey to sugar-coating negative feedback or being overly general and vague when discussing it with an employee. I’ve learned in my leadership journey that I do a disservice to the employee, and myself, when I sugar coat feedback. People often don’t pick up on the subtle clues we use when discussing tough situations so it’s better to deliver the feedback with candor and care so the employee knows exactly what they’re doing wrong and how they can improve.

These may be the “Big Five” when it comes to understanding the basics of leadership and earning a license to lead other people, but I know there are many other competencies that deserve to be on the test. What else would you test for before granting someone a license to lead? Feel free to join the discussion by leaving a comment.

Frankenbossnoun; 1. A mean boss that terrorizes his or her employees; 2. A boss whose behavior closely resembles that of a half-brained monster; 3. A jerk.

With Halloween just three days away, I told my wife that I wanted to write an article about the bad, clueless behaviors that make a leader a “Frankenboss” (see definition above). Sadly enough, it only took us about 3 minutes to brainstorm the following list. If any of these describe your leadership style, you might want to take a look in the mirror and examine the face that’s peering back at you…you might have bolts growing out the sides of your neck.

You might be a Frankenboss if you…

1. Lose your temper – Some leaders think by yelling or cursing at employees they are motivating them. Baloney! Losing your temper only shows a lack of maturity and self-control. There’s no room for yelling and screaming in today’s workplace. Our society has finally awoken to the damaging effects of bullying in our school system so why should it be any different at work? No one should have to go to work and fear getting reamed out by their boss. If you have troubles controlling your temper then do something to fix it.

2. Don’t follow through on your commitments – One of the quickest ways to erode trust with your followers is to not follow through on commitments. As a leader, your people look to you to see what behavior is acceptable, and if you have a habit of not following through on your commitments, it sends an unspoken message to your team that it’s ok for them to not follow through on their commitments either.

3. Don’t pay attention, multi-task, or aren’t “present” in meetings – Some studies say that body language accounts for 50-70% of communication. Multi-tasking on your phone, being preoccupied with other thoughts and priorities, or simply exhibiting an attitude of boredom or impatience in meetings all send the message to your team that you’d rather be any place else than meeting with them. It’s rude and disrespectful to your team to act that way. If you can’t be fully engaged and devote the time and energy needed to meet with your team, then be honest with them and work to arrange your schedule so that you can give them 100% of your focus. They deserve it.

4. Are driven by your Ego – The heart of leadership is about giving, not receiving. Self-serving leaders may be successful in the short-term, but they won’t be able to create a sustainable followership over time. I’m not saying it’s not important for leaders to have a healthy self-esteem because it’s very important. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s going to be hard to generate the self-confidence needed to lead assertively, but there is a difference between self-confidence and egoism. Ken Blanchard likes to say that selfless leaders don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less.

5. Avoid conflict – Successful leaders know how to effectively manage conflict in their teams. Conflict in and of itself is not a bad thing, but our culture tends to have a negative view of conflict and neglect the benefits of creativity, better decision-making, and innovation that it can bring. Frankenbosses tend to either completely avoid conflict by sweeping issues under the rug or they go to the extreme by choosing to make a mountain out of every molehill. Good leaders learn how to diagnose the situation at hand and use the appropriate conflict management style.

6. Don’t give feedback – Your people need to know how they’re performing, both good and bad. A hallmark of trusted leaders is their open communication style. They share information about themselves, the organization, and they keep their employees apprised of how they’re performing. Meeting on a quarterly basis to review the employee’s goals and their progress towards attaining those goals is a good performance management practice. It’s not fair to your employees to give them an assignment, never check on how they’re doing, and then blast them with negative feedback when they fail to deliver exactly what you wanted. It’s Leadership 101 – set clear goals, provide the direction and support the person needs, provide coaching and feedback along the way, and then celebrate with them when they achieve the goal.

7. Micromanage – Ugh…even saying the word conjures up stress and anxiety. Micromanaging bosses are like dirty diapers – full of crap and all over your a**. The source of micromanagement comes from several places. The micromanager tends to think their way is the best and only way to do the task, they have control issues, they don’t trust others, and generally are not good at training, delegating, and letting go of work. Then they spend their time re-doing the work of their subordinates until it meets their unrealistic standards and they go around complaining about how overworked and stressed-out they are! Knock it off! A sign of a good leader is what happens in the office when you’re not there. Are people fully competent in the work? Is it meeting quality standards? Are they behaving like good corporate citizens? Micromanagers have to learn to hire the right folks, train them to do the job the right way, monitor their performance, and then get out of their way and let them do their jobs.

8. Throw your team members under the bus – When great bosses experience success, they give the credit to their team. When they encounter failure, they take personal responsibility. Blaming, accusing, or making excuses is a sign of being a weak, insecure leader. Trusted leaders own up to their mistakes, don’t blame others, and work to fix the problem. If you’re prone to throwing your team members under the bus whenever you or they mess up, you’ll find that they will start to withdraw, take less risk, and engage in more CYA behavior. No one likes to be called out in front of others, especially when it’s not justified. Man up and take responsibility.

9. Always play by the book – Leadership is not always black and white. There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to being a leader and the best ones learn to use good judgment and intuition to handle each situation uniquely. There are some instances where you need to treat everyone the same when it comes to critical policies and procedures, but there are also lots of times when you need to weigh the variables involved and make tough decisions. Too many leaders rely upon the organizational policy manual so they don’t have to make tough decisions. It’s much easier to say “Sorry, that’s the policy” than it is to jump into the fray and come up with creative solutions to the problems at hand.

10. You practice “seagull” management – A seagull manager is one who periodically flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps all over everyone, and then flies away. Good leaders are engaged with their team members and have the pulse of what’s going on in the organization. That is much harder work than it is to be a seagull manager, but it also earns you much more respect and trust from your team members because they know you understand what they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis and you have their best interests in mind.

I’m sure you’ve had your own personal experiences with a Frankenboss. What other behaviors would you add to this list? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Heart to Heart Talks – Three Steps to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

At the root of many of our interpersonal or team conflicts is a failure to communicate. Sometimes the problem is that information isn’t shared broadly enough and people become resentful because they weren’t included. Other times we say things that come out wrong and people are offended, even though we may have had good intentions behind our message. Regardless of how the situation was created, if we don’t take the time to thoughtfully address it, the miscommunication evolves into the “elephant in the room” that everyone knows is present but isn’t willing to address.

Recently I worked with a client where the elephant in the room had been present for nearly a year. The issue within this team had led to a fracture in what were previously very close relationships, had tarnished the team’s reputation within the organization, and was causing strife and turmoil that was affecting the team’s performance. Everyone on the team knew the elephant was in the room, but no one wanted to talk about it.

To break the communication logjam and get the team back on the path to restoring an environment of openness, trust, and respect, I used a facilitated discussion process called Heart to Heart Talks, adapted from Layne and Paul Cutright’s book Straight From the Heart. If the participants are committed to the health and success of the relationship, and approach this process with a desire to be authentic and vulnerable, it can be a powerful way to discuss difficult issues and allow everyone to be heard.

The process involves three rounds of discussions and the speaker and listener have very specific roles. The speaker has to use a series of lead-in statements that structure the context of how they express their thoughts and emotions. In order to let the speaker know he/she has been heard, understood, and allow additional information to be shared, the listener can only respond with the following statements:

  • Thank you.
  • I understand.
  • Is there more you would like to say about that?
  • I don’t understand. Could you say that in a different way?

The first round involves a series of “Discovery” statements designed to create openness among the participants and to learn more about each others’ perspectives. The speaker can use the following sentence starters:

  • Something I want you to know about me…
  • Something that’s important to me is…
  • Something that’s challenging for me right now is…

The second round comprises “Clearing” statements that allow for the release of fears, anxiety, stress, and to increase trust. The speaker can use the following sentence stems:

  • Something I’ve been concerned about is…
  • Something I need to say is…
  • A feeling I’ve been having is…
  • Something I’m afraid to tell you is…

The third round involves “Nurturing” statements that create mental and emotional well-being in the relationship. These statements allow the participants to put closure to the difficult issues that were shared and to express appreciation for each other that sets the stage for moving forward in a positive fashion. The speaker can use the following phrases:

  • Something I appreciate about you is…
  • Something I value about you is…
  • Something I respect about you is…

The facilitator can structure the process in a number of ways, but the important thing is to establish a rhythm for each round where the speaker gets a defined amount of time to share (using the lead-in statements) and the listener responds after each statement. It’s important for the listener to respond each time because it sets the proper rhythm for the discussion and validates the thoughts being shared by the speaker. The speaker should be encouraged to share whatever comes to mind without censoring his/her thoughts or saying what he/she thinks the other person wants to hear. If the speaker can’t think of anything to share, he/she can say “blank” and then repeat one of the sentence starters. Encourage the participants to keep the process moving and the thoughts will flow more quickly. At the conclusion of the three rounds, it’s important to close the discussion with a recap of the desired outcomes and any action items the participants want to pursue.

As “Captain”, the prison warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke, famously said to Paul Newman’s character, “What we have here is (a) failure to communicate.” That’s often the case when it comes to interpersonal or team conflicts, and using the Heart to Heart process can help people confront the elephant in the room that everyone knows is there but is afraid to discuss.

Your Personality Is Not An Excuse For Bad Behavior

One of my pet peeves is people who use their personality as an excuse for their behavior. “I can’t help it, that’s just who I am” is the phrase that’s often uttered to rationalize or justify an action, position, or attitude. In some ways it’s almost the perfect defense to any argument, isn’t it? “You mean you want me to change who I am?” How can you ask someone to change the very essence of what makes them who they are?

There’s no doubt that our inborn temperament and  natural personality traits shape the way we perceive and react to our environment, however, we are in control of the way we choose to respond to situations. Part of being a successful and trusted leader is learning how to regulate your thoughts, emotions, and natural personality traits so that you can respond in a manner that is appropriate for the situation at hand. Using your personality as a crutch to stay in your emotional comfort zone will only limit your leadership potential and alienate those around you.

Your personality is not an excuse for…

Being rude to people — If you frequently find yourself saying “I’m just being honest and telling it like it is,” then you’re probably relying too much on your default nature of being direct and to the point. Those are great traits to possess, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse for being harsh or inconsiderate with people.

Not giving feedback when feedback is due — It’s difficult for most people to deliver constructive criticism to others, but people often hide behind their personality traits as an excuse to not give feedback. Whether you’re introverted and shy and find it difficult to engage others, or an extroverted people-pleaser that can’t stand the idea of someone not liking you, you have to learn ways to give feedback. You owe it to yourself and others.

Avoiding or inciting conflict — Along the same lines as giving feedback, dealing with conflict is probably the most common area where we stay in our emotional comfort zone. This is especially dangerous for people who tend to fall on the edges of the spectrum in dealing with conflict – either avoiding it or gravitating to it. Whatever your natural style of dealing with conflict, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way to deal with it. Just as important as knowing your natural tendencies, it’s important to know how others tend to deal with conflict so that you can “speak the same language” when trying to resolve issues.

Blaming others — It’s easy for us to blame others for whatever shortcomings we may have in our life or career; it’s much harder to honestly examine ourselves and take responsibility for the choices we’ve made that have led us to where we are today. For example, if you have a personality need to always be right, and you demonstrate that by constantly arguing and debating with colleagues, you shouldn’t blame others when people stop including you in projects, meetings, or decisions. “They don’t want my opinion because they don’t respect me and don’t want to hear the truth”…no…they don’t want your opinion because you always think you’re right and it’s annoying!

Our personalities are what makes us the unique individuals we are, and the beauty of organizational life is that we’re able to take this diversity and blend it into a cohesive whole that’s more productive and powerful than the individual parts. Learning to be more aware of our own personalities and those of others, combined with a willingness to stretch out of our comfort zones and not always rely on our natural instincts, will help us lead more productive and satisfying lives at work.

No Leadership Fear: Five Guidelines to Deliver Feedback for Results

Giving effective feedback on behavior or performance strikes fear in the heart of many leaders. This past week I spoke on this topic at the Ken Blanchard College of Business at Grand Canyon University, and when I asked audience members why this was the case, I heard reasons like this: fear of confrontation, a desire to avoid conflict, uncertainty about the way the receiver will react, or a lack of confidence and competence in their own abilities to deliver feedback in a constructive, positive way.

Receiving feedback is a natural part of life and it allows us to interpret our behavior and circumstances and make any necessary adjustments. If you touch a hot stove, what happens? You feel the heat and burn your fingers…that’s feedback! If you play golf and hit your drive into the pond…that’s feedback! If you make your wife angry and she forces you to sleep on the couch…that’s feedback! (And the subject of a different blog!)

Feedback is information about past behavior, delivered in the present, which may influence future behavior. Before you deliver feedback, you should assess the quality of the relationship with the receiver. Is there mutual respect and a good level of trust? Have you given feedback to this person before? If so, how did he/she react? Do you know their story – hopes, fears, struggles, family background – that influence the way they “show up” at work? If you don’t have a solid relationship with the receiver, the feedback will probably fall on deaf ears. Work on improving the relationship before delivering the feedback.

You should also check your motives before delivering feedback. Are you giving information, making a request, or making a demand? Are you hoping to improve the person’s performance or satisfying your ego by making a point? Make sure your motives are in the right place before delivering the feedback. Also, make sure there was clarity on the goals, roles, or expectations on the part of the receiver. It’s not fair to give someone feedback on their performance if they weren’t clear on what was expected in the first place. Leaders have to take responsibility for examining whether or not they set the receiver up for success or failure.

Once you’ve prepared, make sure you’re clear on the right type of feedback you need to deliver to produce the results you desire. There are four basic types of feedback:

  • Feedback on “What”—Feedback that provides objective information about results, end product(s), or outcomes
  • Feedback on “How”—Feedback that provides objective information about the process or way results are obtained
  • Praise—Emotion-revealing feedback designed to encourage certain desired behavior in the future
  • Disapproval—Emotion-revealing feedback designed to extinguish certain undesired behavior in the future

When you’re ready to deliver the feedback, it’s important you follow these basic guidelines:

  1. Give feedback on behaviors that can be changed, not on traits or personality. For example, saying “Sally, the way you interacted with that customer was unprofessional” isn’t very helpful in allowing Sally to know what to do differently. “Sally, you need to say ‘Hello’ to each customer when they walk through the door, introduce yourself by name, and offer to answer any questions” is much more specific and helpful to Sally.
  2. Be specific and descriptive, don’t generalize. Think of giving feedback as the front page of the newspaper, not the editorial page. Keep it focused, concise, and to the point and avoid rambling or going off on tangents.
  3. If possible, give feedback immediately. Perceptions change over the course of time and opens the door to misunderstandings or different interpretations of events. The longer you wait between the time the behavior occurs and when you give feedback, you run the risk of the “leave alone, ZAP!” problem: the receiver thinks everything is fine until, ZAP!, he/she gets zinged with some feedback about something that happened long ago. That creates resentment, animosity, and erodes trust.
  4. Control the context. Choose the right time of day, a neutral location, be calm, keep your emotions in check, and regulate your body language to make sure you provide an environment that will support the success of your message and not hinder it.
  5. Make it relevant and about moving forward. Dwelling on past behaviors or events that are unlikely to reoccur damages trust and inhibits your ability to provide constructive feedback in the future. Keep the feedback relevant to the situation at hand and focus on what needs to change in the future.

Trust earns you the right to give feedback, and trusted leaders have learned to deliver feedback in a way that enhances the relationships with their people as well as improves their performance. If leaders are committed to building trust and following these common sense guidelines, they need not have any fear about giving feedback.

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