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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about the difficulties of giving feedback. In this post, I’ll be going a step farther to discuss how successful leaders in Summit have overcome this challenge.

The original question I posed was, “Why do leaders regularly struggle with feedback?” I mentioned a Google search I did for “giving feedback,” that got millions of results, all extolling the virtues of feedback. So, if the benefits are so obvious and logical, why is it such a struggle? Why all the head trash? What’s so difficult about telling people how they’re doing? (You can read Part 1 here.)

Now, I’d like to discuss what successful leaders have done to get past these issues. I’ll leave specific word tracks and phrases, the “How’s”, for another article. What I want to focus on here are the first principles and understanding the mindset of a leader who gives awesome feedback, the “Why”. In other words, what are the principles that should be guiding my behaviors?

  • A Team Is for Me. When working with business owners on this issue, one of the first questions I find myself asking is, “Do you really want a team?” It’s a simple and honest question, not sarcastic. The answers are full of complexity. Those who succeed in building an employee team feel strongly that this is the right decision. When setbacks happen, and they will, these leaders are undeterred. Making this decision is a stop-gap. If the answer is, “Yes!,” keep reading.
  • Commitment is Emotional. Embrace that people are emotional. Authentic commitment is psychological and is driven by liking, even loving, coming to work. A primary part of creating that engaging work environment is Feedback. Money is just a foot in the door. What builds great teams is a “feeling” of commitment. The best teams have leaders who embrace that we are emotional creatures. These leaders make open communication and feedback (positive and negative) one of their main activities. NOTE: for more on this, see “First, Break All the Rules,” by Marcus Buckingham.
  • People Want to Succeed. I don’t know anyone that goes to work in the morning thinking, “I want to be a bad employee today.” I do know a lot of people who go to work thinking, “It’s not really clear what I’m supposed to be doing,” or, “I know more about what I’m not supposed to do than what I am supposed to do.” Mistakes are an opportunity to learn. You’re people want to know if they are not meeting your expectations. Yes, hold your people accountable. But build a culture that supports learning, rather than punishes mistakes.

Hands down, the best leaders I know talk about these three things in one way or another. (Note: by no means is the list limited to these three. This is just how I see it.) They believe these things deep in their core. Leave any one of these three out, and I think you may find it hard to really embrace feedback and know it’s a reason for success.

Now, let’s go one step further to discuss strategies for staying motivated.

  • Start with Good I/R. The best leaders have great Identity/Role separation. This means a failure in their role does not affect our Identity as a person. In other words, mistakes don’t make me feel bad; they are a natural part of the learning process. Maybe the feedback doesn’t go as planned, or the employee puts up a rebuttal, or everyone gets upset and the meeting goes nowhere. That has to be OK. It’s part of the learning process.
  • Create Clear Roles. It’s tough to give feedback when you’re not really clear on what people are responsible for. Just like any sports team has positions, so too does your business. Organize your team by creating one-page job descriptions. Share them with the team and make sure everyone understands their role. Now, feedback becomes a way to clarify roles. It’s less personal
  • Practice Positive Self-talk. Tasks that are out of our comfort zone get put on the back burner. Avoid this failure to act by keeping yourself in the right mindset. “Keep your head in the game,” as the saying goes. Start by reminding yourself regularly of the First Principles above.
  • Work to Build Trust. If your people have trust, they will be open to feedback. It’s emotional! If there is something keeping you from trusting employees, there is a high likelihood your behaviors will subvert the process. This can happen in subtle ways. I’ve heard many business owners say, “I asked my Office Manager to do it, but I had time (or it wasn’t getting done fast enough), so I just did it.” I can almost guarantee the Office Manager in this situation is wondering, “Does he trust me?” Seek to recognize when your behaviors are working against the trust, and then turn that into an opportunity for feedback.
  • Remember the Feedback You’ve Gotten. How did you feel that last time a customer showed great appreciation for their job? Didn’t it feel great? Sure, they paid for the work. But it was the appreciation they showed that makes you want to work for them again. Similarly, when something goes wrong on a job, your best customers have shared it openly and respectfully, knowing that you will make it right. They show understanding that things may go wrong at times. It’s that understanding and respect that likely motivates you to correct it fast. It’s emotional! Are you showing your employees the same respect and appreciation- even when things go wrong.

I will purposefully stop short at this point. What I’m shooting for in this article is to work on developing an “eager want” to give your team feedback. To do that, we have to put first things first. If the three “first principals” speak to you, great! Work to cultivate them in your mind. The next step is to start living the next five strategies. Done faithfully, I think you’ll likely find yourself more comfortable with the idea of feedback. Maybe even desiring to give it.

This is what the best leaders have accomplished: they have adapted themselves to the Role of Leader from the inside first. If you’ve been struggling with feedback, I hope you find this to be great information to start on that journey.

All the Best,


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