How do you feel about feedback?
Do you give feedback on positive aspects of your teams performance and points worth improving easily, or does your stomach register protest at the very idea of having to pass on negative messages?
Does the old German adage of ‘nicht geschimpft ist auch genug gelobt‘ (roughly translates into: ‘not telling people off is adequate praise’) apply to your work environment?
Are you concerned about praising the smaller things your teams do for fear they are not worth mentioning and might have an inflationary effect on the value of your praise?
I stopped counting the times those teams of mine who were predominantly German told me ‘Cary, Du musst nicht alles loben.’ (roughly translates to: ‘Cary, you don’t need to praise every little thing.’) Unfortunately for them, that was a habit I, and particularly the American part of me, found very hard to shake. Also, because I didn’t and don’t take my teams’ everyday performance for granted, even if it is part of their job. To do things well and with a good attitude is worth every bit of positive feedback in my book.
Personally, I have had the experience as a leader of people and project that my employees and teams have a much easier time addressing things that need some more work or attention when they are secure in their knowledge that their environment, the people they work with and for, value them. And one very effective way to transfer that knowledge is by authentic, positive feedback. Not the kind that you don’t really mean and where the receiving party can tell you are just ‘slapping it on’ for the desired effect, but the kind you really mean. In all my work with leaders I have found that most everyone – bar those in a really serious conflict – can think of things their counterparts do well and they value about them. That is how I give positive feedback. Even with a technical background and the theoretical ability to do most of what my teams did, I found it stunning what some of my employees could do and achieve. Making a steel structure on the ground with some (albeit very advanced) PCs in it ‚think‘ that it was cruising through the air and full of passengers was and is pretty amazing to me.
But that is, some would say, the easy part. What about when things don’t go that well? What about addressing things you know your team can do better, they need to do better, or they missed the goal on? One of the reasons I am writing this, apart from my conviction that good, open and regular feedback practice is one of the most strong and effective leadership tools around, is a great article by Arianna Huffington titled ‘Give compassionate feedback while still being constructive’, which speaks a lot of sense to me.
It addresses two of the key components of feedback: directness and compassion. Feedback with one but without the other doesn’t work long-term, as witnessed by many companies in the news faltering on the altars of directness at all costs, in the name of effectiveness, and compassion at the expense of communicating issues to be improved effectively. I love Arianna Huffington’s term of compassionate directness, as applied in her company Thrive Global, where employees are empowered to give feedback, speak up, talk back, discuss and address issues, and are held to doing so with compassion, empathy and understanding.
So what if you want to implement this as leaders? And how to get this ‘nirvana of leadership’? You won’t be surprised to hear that it is by practice and hard work, as many tasks of leaders. And by creating an atmosphere of trust. By involving and engaging your team and giving them the opportunity to practice and carry the atmosphere with you. More about creating an atmosphere of trust in another article coming up.
Thanks for reading and joining me here. If you need additional support as a leader and in order to strengthen teamwork in your organization, don’t hesitate to get in touch. It is always good to have a sparring partner on leadership from outside of your company, and we can address topics like this and tailor them to your approach in business coaching in Hamburg, at your location or via digital means. Looking forward to hearing from you!