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Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP

 

A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
June 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Building a Feedback Culture

My work teaching and speaking about leadership gives me lots of opportunities to talk to people about their experience with one of the most important leadership practices – feedback. When I ask employees if they receive as much as they would like from their leaders, they invariably answer no. When they are honest about it they will tell that while they'd like more feedback they are also a little nervous about receiving it.

When I ask leaders about the feedback they provide, they usually confess that they know they should provide more feedback. When they are candid, they usually tell me they are a little nervous about providing it.

So does all this suggest that we have broken workplaces? I don't think so, it simply suggests that the relationship between leader and follower is an important one. Followers want to know how their leaders see their work. Leaders should be talking about performance. Often the first way a lot of good leaders can get better is to start providing more, and more skillful feedback.

The most skillful leaders learn to provide two types of feedback: encouragement and correction. They look for demonstrations of work well done and encourage more of it by noticing and commenting on it. They also look for examples of work that could be improved upon and correct this with skillful coaching through corrective feedback. Often I see leaders who correct but never encourage, they have unwittingly created a system of reprimand rather than one of development. Who would want to participate in feedback that is always and only corrective? Just as often I see leaders who encourage but never correct, often because they don't like confrontation, even when it is just a short feedback session. These leaders are missing developmental opportunities.

The best leaders encourage and correct as is warranted by the individual's performance, so strong performers should naturally get a lot more encouragement that correction. Weak performers should get more correction than encouragement. In this way the body of feedback provided by a skillful leader paints a representative picture of each individual's performance and everyone knows where they stand.

Ideally, the proportion of encouragement and correction should represent the individual's performance over time. In this way daily and weekly feedback foreshadows periodic performance reviews - no one should hear about something for the first time during a performance review. These reviews, when well done, only summarize feedback already delivered over the course of the year.

Feedback in the hands of a skillful leader becomes the key team building skill. If leadership skills were tools on a belt, feedback should be the one most nicked, because it should be the one used most often.

This is why effective leaders strive to build a culture in which frequent feedback is freely and skillfully delivered and freely received as a normal part of organizational life. The best way to achieve this is to talk about the value of feedback, corporately and individually and then make sure you give everyone lots of experience with it. With experience, people see the benefits of feedback and get comfortable with these brief but important conversations. They relax more and learn more from each instalment, as the team is strengthened one conversation at a time.

Discussion questions:

  1. How well and how often do you provide feedback?
  2. Do you both encourage and correct?
  3. How often are employees surprised by what they hear in performance reviews?

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
June 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor

 

Has this article sparked some thinking?
Join our blog Talking Leadership here to share it with other readers.



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