One of the most challenging things that we do as leaders is to give and receive feedback. It has been my experience as an executive coach and former leader that no matter how well crafted, feedback can be difficult to deliver in a way that builds trust and supports the development of your team, and yet it is a large part of our daily lives. Most assume that feedback is always negative although, by definition, it is simply the evaluation of your behavior, and can be either negative or positive. But for this post, let’s assume that the feedback you’re facing right now falls into the “needs improvement” column.
Glass Half Full?
As the saying goes, “negative feedback isn’t always bad and positive feedback isn’t always good.” If a leader is continually praising those around him or her, the assumption is that everyone is knocking the cover off the ball and there’s no need for improvement, which is unlikely and a missed opportunity to challenge and develop people. Negative feedback, however, provided in the right context and with the right delivery and intention, is perhaps one of the best ways to elevate the performance of your team and set them up for long-term success. Great leaders find a way to reframe feedback from a judgment of who we are to an input mechanism for growth and development.
But what if it’s you, the leader, under the microscope? Are you prepared to receive feedback from peers, subordinates and supervisors in an open and curious way, or do you tend to go on the defensive when critiqued and shut down? Providing and receiving feedback requires transparency and a level of vulnerability that make most of us uncomfortable. But if you manage to channel the courage to give and receive feedback, and empower those around you to do the same without the fear of retaliation, you cultivate an honest dialogue the leads to better performance for both you and your team.
How to Receive Feedback
Here’s a bit of reality. Imagine that you start asking your direct reports for feedback, like, “What do I need to start doing, stop doing or continue doing to improve our working relationship?” Maybe one brave member of your team tells you that you need to stop scheduling so many meetings during lunch because that’s his only time to take a break during the day. As the leader, you have to decide if you are willing to hear the feedback and willing to change the behavior. If you aren’t willing to change the behavior, would you consider alternatives such as creating another opportunity for him to have a break later in the day? It is important to remember that giving and receiving feedback is only part of the equation. Demonstrating that the feedback has been heard through action creates the change.
Consider these tips for receiving feedback:
It is often said that feedback is a gift. Sometimes, it may feel like a gift you want to return, but I encourage you to hold on to it, open it up, and see the benefit it can be to you as a leader. It also takes non-defensive behavior to clearly articulate gratitude for the feedback and courage to be clear about what behaviors would be more effective, even if the corrective behaviors fall in your court. Embrace the art of feedback as one of your leadership super powers to be practiced and flexed to develop and engage others in pursuit of high performance.
As leaders, expectations are high. Team members depend on you for inspiration and guidance. Senior leaders look to you to perform and contribute. So you take everyone’s order and serve it up on a plate. Day in and day out, those revolving requests keep you on your toes and off balance until one day --- crash! Does that broken plate represent someone’s disappointment or your liberation from a task that was not fruitful? Let’s talk about priorities.
Setting priorities is essential to managing expectations and accomplishing tasks at the right time and in the right way. The ability to do so is critical to your development as a leader and the reputation you build as one.
Developing clear priorities for yourself and your direct reports starts by identifying what’s important. What needs to be done first and why? Does the outcome of that task impact other outcomes down the road? For example, if you rely on the relationships between your department and another to complete projects, one of your priorities might be to focus your team on building that relationship. Or, does your review of a report impact a team member’s ability to submit a work request? If so, that task may take precedent over another colleague’s request that is a “nice to have” but isn’t urgent. Congratulations, you’ve just gotten rid of a plate!
How to Set Priorities
It can be difficult to set priorities. At times, everything sounds important and you find yourself buckling under the pressure. You struggle to filter out the most urgent tasks and end up focusing on the easier ones that could have waited (that’s human nature, right?).
But give yourself a break. Understanding what’s important takes time and careful thought to develop. Often, it’s a team effort. One way to develop priorities that are clear, actionable and supported is to carve out time to create a draft list of priorities, then discuss them with others, perhaps your boss and peers, to be sure that you are in alignment with their priorities and the priorities of the organization. Negotiating priorities is a good way to get stronger buy-in and awareness in the organization.
Once you’ve identified a short list of what’s important, discuss this with your team and identify the “urgent” requests and fire drills that unnecessarily create more spinning plates that get in the way of being able to focus on the important priorities.
If your organization struggles with this, consider creating alignment meetings at the executive level or other conversations to calibrate and negotiate priorities to keep everyone focused on what is important right now, what might be changing, and where the executive team is either supporting or distracting the workforce. At the executive level, distractions and fire drills have impact on so many more people that deviating from what’s important becomes much more costly in time, energy, frustration and lack of execution.
At a personal level, creating your priorities and making sure that they are in alignment with your commitments as a leader will help you align your team and reduce your spinning plates to a manageable number. Decide what “urgent” activities you will not engage in, and have conversations with others who create them and make requests. Learn to ask for what you need and say “no” to things in a way that supports the relationship with others and also makes your priorities clear.
Keep this in mind.
Keeping multiple plates spinning is possible, as long as you know that the plates that are spinning are the important ones, and you have clear understanding and buy-in from others. Limit your plates and you will be much more successful in executing on the commitments that you’ve made and the priorities of the organization.
Most of us start our journey of business ownership with a passion and a heart for the pursuit of our own thing, not beholden to anyone else to make decisions for us or supervise our decisions. We love the freedom and the sense of adventure, and the ability to pursue something that enriches our lives and pays for the food on our tables. We believe in finding work that is consistent with who we are, and we also believe that others will want to follow us, buy from us, and also experience all of the value that we can bring to their world.
If you want to have a successful business, though, whether you work for yourself or someone else, you need to know very specifically who you are serving and what makes you uniquely qualified to deliver the value that you say you are offering. You have to understand what risks you are taking and why you are taking them on this specific market segment.
You also need to have the discipline to do the things that you should do even when you don’t want to do them. I think the term today is “adulting” when you make those types of decisions. And in a new business, knowing who you serve, how you will serve them and making the tough decisions each day to spend your time focused there is a very adult decision.
So, while passion and heart goes a long way, building structure and strategy around your passion will help you relate and deliver better to your ideal customer, and support you in taking risks that are more likely to have a reward for you. If you want to improve your success:
Your heart is only one of your guides on this journey. Creating strategy and structure in addition to identifying your target market, meeting them and fine-tuning while you are learning about them will require courage, discipline and a positive mindset. Your heart will benefit from having that type of support.
One of the biggest challenges we have today isn’t a dearth of ideas, apps and experts; it’s the ability for a business owner or leader to select a very few things to implement for the biggest impact, and then execute well on those few things. Entrepreneurs do not have unlimited time, money or other resources to spend scattered across too many ideas, so the real challenge is to make time to decide what top three things will move your business forward and master those. Knowledge isn’t power unless you can activate it to achieve your priorities.
If you are feeling scattered and smothered and potentially covered (thank you, Waffle House, for this hash brown metaphor), it’s time to develop a system to create calm, remove distractions and create focus. Here are a few tips to consider:
Making deliberate choices about how you will spend your valuable time and money, and not being distracted by the need to do more will enable you to master the effective few things that will grow your business, and also set you up to be more available to real opportunity that crosses your path.
What you choose to do with your time directly impacts what you accomplish by the end of the day. I know. That sounds so obvious. And yet I hear this so often: “Wow, it’s been SOOOO busy today, but I have no idea what I did.” In our world of constant stimulation and distraction, disruptions and complexity, it’s easy to be off-the-chain busy and not accomplish anything that pertains to our priorities.
The constant barrage of emails popping into the inbox, text messages dinging, voice mails blinking, cell phones buzzing and other electronic notifications can feel like an assault on the senses and most definitely on the attention span. While the tools that deliver these messages are necessary to our modern way of doing business, we don’t have to be slaves to them. We can manage them, rather than being managed by them.
Building a few habits of how you approach your day can help reduce the busy-ness and increase your focus on your few and most important priorities. Here are several tips to consider:
We all face distractions and those days when we aren’t as productive or focused as we had planned. We also all have conscious choices about how we spend our time, which is a responsibility that needs to be managed. Leaders who are successful model the discipline and the habits of evaluating what’s working or not, and shift their habits to adapt to what works best.