Courageous Feedback. Can You Deliver It?

Strive for a shared perspective 

by Eileen Rogers

“Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.” —Dr. Brené Brown

Most leaders assume feedback is negative and angst over how to deliver it so that it creates accountability, without discomfort for themselves. The ultimate challenge is how to deliver feedback, still be liked, “feel nice,” and still create change or learning. Tough conversations require courage. In her book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, included a Leader’s Checklist for giving engaged feedback. 

“I’m ready to give feedback when …”

1. … I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you. With COVID meetings, this is a metaphor now. The attitude can be symbolic of a power differential or that we view the conversation as adversarial. 

2. … I’m willing to put the problem in front of us, instead of between us or sliding it toward you. When this happens, both people can see it from the same perspective, shifting from “you are wrong here” to “there is something that needs to change.” Now the leader is on the employee’s side and helping him or her through the hurdle — rather than just pointing out the problem.

3. … I’m ready to listen, ask questions and accept that I may not fully understand the issue. Strong leaders facilitate conversations by fact-finding from a place of curiosity — not lecturing. They don’t shovel and pile on advice/direction/lessons in a single session. Courageous leaders will dig in, take notes, ask lots of questions. “Here’s what I’m seeing; here’s what I’m making up about what I see. I have a lot of questions. Can you help me understand?”

4. … I’m ready to acknowledge what you do well instead of just picking apart your mistakes. This can be tricky if there is a crisis or a deliverable with a tight timeline not meeting expectations. 

5. … I can recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges. Effective leaders adopt a strengths-based feedback style. They connect individual strengths the employee has not applied in the situation. “One of your greatest strengths is attention to detail. You do sweat the small stuff and it makes a big difference to the team. As I look at this, I don’t see you applying that skill here and we need it now.” 

6. … I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming. We grew up in families with shame and blame as the default methods of feedback. Giving productive and respectful feedback is a skill set we have not learned. 

7. … I’m open to owning my part. If leaders can’t own anything, convinced that they did nothing to contribute to the issue, they are simply not ready to meet. Nothing is ever strictly one-sided.

8. … I can genuinely thank someone for their efforts rather than just criticizing them for their failings. Look for opportunities to call out the good. “I want to share some feedback with you about that call. I think you did a really good job defining the problem to be solved and listening to all the perspectives.” 

9. … I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to growth and opportunity. Leaders are prepared to talk about what needs to change within the context of productive feedback and career tracking. Knowing how to tie what they are observing to what’s important for the person is key.

10. … I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you. To grow feedback receptivity, show up open, curious, vulnerable and full of questions. A meeting that begins with a guarded defensive leader who is ready to prove they are right with some kickass hard feedback will be met in a matching defensive, guarded posture by the recipient. 

11. … I am aware of power dynamics, implicit bias and stereotypes. The closer you are to privilege (white, male, straight, etc.) the harder you must work to acknowledge and see how bias could factor into the feedback conversation. Brave leaders will ask about it.

Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, shared that catching people doing things right is more powerful than always highlighting mistakes. Parents know messages will stick if delivered with reinforcing praise — much more than shaming, blaming or pointing out what’s wrong. The same is true with teams. Courageous feedback is about balancing the messages — with all of them being direct, clear and kind. Unclear is unkind.  

After 40 years as president of her print and marketing company, Eileen Rogers’ encore career is now as a leadership coach and business advisor through her company One Creative View. She is a seasoned and accomplished entrepreneur and recognized community leader who is fiercely passionate about supporting and growing more vulnerable and courageous leaders. She is a certified Dare to Lead™ facilitator, Integrative Enneagram practitioner and executive coach.

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