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No Need for Cowardice When It Comes to Coaching

By Verity Creedy

Verity Bissett-PowellIn 1939, the lion from The Wizard of Oz boldly asks, "What makes a king out of a slave?" He then follows up with the answer: "Courage." Of course, how courage looks in action will vary, from representing your country on the battlefield, to embarking on a charitable crusade, to being a single parent. So let me bring the concept to something accessible to all of us—giving feedback to someone that they need to help improve. Does that require courage? Yes.

CowardiceThe phrase “a VUCA world” (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) doesn’t seem to accurately summarise the hair-raising, mind-whirling, heart-thudding pace of change in organisations today. The global recession eased and yet there was no sense of relief. The tide of change is forever turning and employees are required to adapt with it. As a leader, you need to help employees see how new organisational strategies translate into them altering their behaviours daily. To be effective in leading an agile high performance team, you need to give feedback. This is a business imperative, not a nice-to-have competency. You are all smart people, you all understand this. So why doesn’t it happen?

There are 3 key reasons why leaders dodge giving feedback for improvement:

  1. My team member will hate me. You imagine the scenario in your mind: you sit the individual down and indicate how their latest report did not capture the insights required for the meeting, or how their presentation to the executive committee was too much “tell” and not enough “seek.” You predict their head dropping and eyes scanning the floor, or worse, they start arguing with you and try to debate their way out of the conversation. The team member leaves the room, cursing your name. These are common fears and if given the wrong way, feedback could result in these responses—but when delivered in a specific, timely, and balanced way, feedback for improvement will not conclude in such a reaction. Instead, the team member will recognise the scenario, listen to the less-then-effective outcome, and work together with you to consider what they could do differently next time. They walk away with a crystal-clear understanding of how to realign their behaviour towards organisational needs.
  2. They might get better, over time. Hope—what a wonderful strategy. You convince yourself that the team member probably realises that by getting their calculations wrong it has impacted the client budget, or how missing the deliverable deadline by a couple of days has damaged your company’s reputation. The employee gets that, right? Wrong. While telepathy would be a fabulous skill in today’s business environment, it does not exist. Your team member will not know what they did ineffectively unless you help them understand how the behaviour requires improvement. As a leader, it is your responsibility to share with them which part of their performance was unsuccessful and what the associate should do to be successful. Clarity and collaboration should be your go-to strategy.
  3. I don’t know how to give feedback. (Therefore I won’t give feedback because I might get it wrong.) Okay, this one is a valid reason for not giving feedback. So let me remove the barrier for you right now. In the above examples, we referenced a few aims when giving feedback for improvement: be specific, deliver the feedback in a timely manner, ensure a balance, and encourage collaboration. This can be summarised into a simple model that many of you have come across before—STAR (with a twist!):
  • Situation / Task: "Ryan, last month you were asked to present your strategic agenda for the next financial year to our executive committee. Yesterday you delivered that presentation and I would like to talk through how it went."
  • Action: "One of your absolute strengths is data analysis and identification of trends. The content of your presentation was excellent and the insight around our emerging market spend was really useful. In terms of sharing the results, how did you think the presentation was received?" (await response) "One of my observations was that you presented for the full 20 minute agenda slot, and this did not allow any time for questions."
  • Result: "The consequence of this approach is that I noticed the executive committee members started to lose concentration after about 10-15 minutes, and those with questions appeared frustrated when unable to ask them. Did you notice anything similar?" (await response)
  • Alternative Action: "I will be putting you on the executive committee agenda again Ryan, so I want to work with you to consider what you might do differently next time. How can we get your great ideas across while still meeting the needs of the audience? What ideas do you have?" (await response) "Those sound like good ideas, and I might also suggest a practice presentation to ensure that timings allow for you to share the content and enable 5 minutes for questions."
  • Alternative Result: "This will result in the executive team not only having access to your quality analysis, but also being more engaged in the process. I am confident that the ideas we discussed will make your next presentation more successful, and thanks for being so open during this discussion."

Not rocket science is it? But it does need to be planned in advance, be targeted, and be absent of any assumptions or emotions. This increases the receptivity and helps the employee really get at the heart of what behaviour they need to adjust. Taking this approach moves you from being the leader that they curse, to the leader that they value. In Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture,” he discusses significant managers in his life. When discussing his school football days, he shares an anecdote of one particularly tough practice session. The deputy coach caught up with Randy afterwards—“Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?” he said. I could barely muster a “yeah.” “That’s a good thing. When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, it means they’ve given up on you.” Think about that. Isn’t it true? That feedback is not the punishment or embarrassment of your direct reports, but a way of demonstrating your dedication to their growth.

In my opening paragraph I described different ways that courage looks in action. All of them revolve around making something better for humanity. So my challenge to you, today, is to make maximising the potential of others your courageous pursuit. Don’t be a slave to your fears—take action, and then you, too, can emerge as a king.

Verity Creedy is UK sales leader with DDI in the United Kingdom.

Posted: 10 Feb, 2016,
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