Sally, an executive coaching client, was beaming. She had just done what had been hard for her in past. She had given her direct report feedback that was 80% focused on the positive, and only 20% on what needed to be improved. Sally can see improvement opportunities all around her, and that shows up in how she gives feedback. She had been working really hard to give balanced feedback that builds people up. She was buoyant from the conversation she had had. She genuinely felt great about helping her direct report feel good.
Until one week later.
She found out that the conversation had been very demotivating to her direct report.
We tell ourselves lies all the time. This is why each of us needs truth tellers. After all, we can only see the world from our own perspective. The only problem is that these truth tellers are hard to come by. Who in their right mind would go out of their way and take the time to give developmental feedback to a colleague, let alone a boss?
So, how did Sally find out that the wins she had imagined left her direct report feeling like she had lost? We had been working together in a “Stakeholder-Centered Coaching” process created by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith that has had a 95% success rate. Sally had picked several behaviors as part of her development plan that she wanted to practice more of. She picked six stakeholders and asked them if they would be willing to observe her behavior and give her feeback on these behaviors once a month. As her coach, I conduct a quick electronic survey once a month that gives her feedback and she follows up with her stakeholder circle for additional suggestions. Through the rigor of this process and Sally’s own humility in asking for feedback, her direct report was able to be honest and share her perspective. She would have never done that in the past.
When Sally had the follow-up conversation with her direct report, she understood that even though Sally had spent what she thought was most of the time giving positive feedback, the direct report had heard mostly what could be improved. The tone of urgency and the list of actions that needed to be done made her direct report feel like she was not trusted. This was a difficult conversation for both, but Sally got important information about her impact on others and her listening helped her grow trust with her direct report.
Think back to the last two weeks at work. Did you have a powerful conversation that helped you to grow? Unfortunately, there are not enough of these trust building conversations at work. What’s at stake is our own leadership growth, the engagement of our people, and ultimately whether our goals are met in a rapidly changing environment.
Whether you are working with an executive coach or not, you can take the initiative to create a “Stakeholder Coaching Circle” at work. Here’s a step-by-step way to do that:
• Put your ego aside
• Get clear on why you want to grow (what’s at stake for you)
• Pick a growth area you want to focus on (e.g. be better at influencing others)
• Pick up to three behaviors (ideally, it’s less than three so you can really focus) that you will practice more of to help you in your growth area (e.g. practice active listening, being clear in making requests, helping others achieve their goals)
• Identify several colleagues (three to five) who you trust to observe you in action and give you honest feedback
• Enroll your colleagues to help you by giving you immediate and timely feedback and suggestions (you can also meet with them on a regular basis). Offer to reciprocate.
• Once you feel you have learned a behavior so it becomes second-nature, repeat the cycle from the top.
Our world today is changing rapidly. We can no longer afford to wait to get feedback at the end of a year. We need to adapt quickly to the changes around us, which require us to stay present to our newest growth and leadership opportunities.
So, now time for action. What is one commitment you will make to yourself from what you learned here?
This blog post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.