At last week’s Leadership Chat we focused on the art of praise in leadership development. We talked about how praise has the ability to transform our perspective on our company, our role, our team and even the mission we take on as leaders.
This week, Steve Woodruff and I would like to switch gears and evaluate the opposite side of the equation – the art of giving constructive feedback.
As with praise, giving constructive feedback effectively requires that no critical ingredient be left out:
1. Timeliness is critical in order for the recipient to associate the behavior with the feedback. Waiting until an annual or even semi-annual performance review will frustrate the recipient and lessen the impact of your critique.
2. It must be specific so that the recipient has a clear understanding of the behavior or approach that they need to improve upon. As we all know, it is much more difficult to receive criticism than praise. Leaders should anticipate many questions and be prepared to give very specific and clear answers to help the recipient receive the feedback in the best light possible.
3. Explaining “why” and “how” is crucial for establishing relevance. Leaders must help the individual understand why and how their behavior is affecting the team or company in a negative way. Sometimes this is obvious, but many times it’s much more subtle.
4. Put the feedback in perspective. Is it a really big deal or is just a minor adjustment required? This is truly significant because if your words and actions minimize the feedback in some way it will not be acted on as aggressively as if you told the recipient their job is on the line. Your responsibility is to send the appropriate message.
5. Tone should be carefully considered in order to send the appropriate message and to ensure that it will be received in the way you wish it to be.
6. Providing very clear insight and explanation into the behaviors desired moving forward is of the utmost importance so that the recipient is empowered to succeed the next time.
7. Offering to be of help to them in any way possible solidifies your responsibility as a leader to set your team up for success.
8. Reaffirming the person’s value to the organization assures them of your desire to help them improve and to see them succeed to their greatest ability. In the end, isn’t that what we all want for our teams, peers and the organization as a whole?
I think it’s vitally important to remember that when we talk about constructive feedback, we talk about “giving” it just as we do with praise. In giving, there is a gift.
When done well, the individual receiving the feedback will feel as though they received a gift; something that will enhance their career and enable them to be genuinely more successful in the long run.
A Striking Example from Abraham Lincoln
As I did last week, I’d like to share an example courtesy of Abraham Lincoln from Donald T. Phillips’s book, “Lincoln on Leadership.” Notice how he exhibits all of the behaviors mentioned above when providing critically constructive feedback to Major General Hooker in January of 1863:
I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course, I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons. And yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which, I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm.
But I think that during Gen. Burnside’s command of the Army, you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators.
What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the Army, of criticizing their Commander, and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can, to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army, while such a spirit prevails in it.
And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.
Yours very truly,
In your experience, what are the essential ingredients in the art of giving constructive feedback?
Our topic will be: The Art of Giving Constructive Feedback. We look forward to seeing all of you there!
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Photo is Woman’s Hands with Rose by Stephen K. Willi.