When I began my second year of graduate school for counseling, I didn’t think I was going to make it. To be honest, I was turning out to be a terrible therapist. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was concerned about my situation. I just didn’t know how to translate the book knowledge that I had learned in the first year into actually helping people.
My program allowed me the opportunity to do live counseling behind a one way mirror, where a supervisor sat and observed me and my work. One such supervisor was a woman named Sharon Shepherd.
Sharon was an amazing therapist I had the privilege of observing as a student. I was so excited to have her work with me, but was also terrified because I knew my counseling skills weren’t “clicking” between the two of us. A few days after my first session, I received an email from Sharon. In the email, she said many helpful things, but she used an image that helped me understand what she meant and what I needed to change. She called me Pollyanna (like the Disney character). I was having a difficult time giving honest feedback to clients. I only wanted to talk about the good things that I saw. Beyond this great image that helped me understand the work I needed to do, she also modeled the behavior she wanted to see. She gave me honest feedback. The feedback didn’t hurt. It wasn’t harsh and it wasn’t personal. It was true and I knew it.
I learned many things during my time in supervision for becoming a counselor. One of the most important things was this idea of giving honest feedback. How often do we hold back as coaches, leaders, supervisors, etc. because we are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings? How often do we only point out the things that we are comfortable talking about? When we are in a position to give feedback to someone, the only way to do so in a way that is respectful to that person and their growth is to give them the truth – positive and negative.
Over the next several months after receiving that email from Sharon, my technique improved and I wasn’t as terrible as I had been previously, thanks to many great supervisors. After one of my last sessions, I received another email from Sharon. In it, she let me know that Pollyanna had morphed into Xena Warrior Princess and that she was proud of me. Because Sharon had given me honest feedback, the compliment I received from her was much stronger and more important than it had been had she ignored the truth. I’m often described as someone who “tells is like it is.” While I attempt to come at hard truths with compassion and kindness, Sharon truly taught me that telling the truth is a kindness in and of itself.
As a leader, your job is to help people grow, and the only way to do that is to tell them the truth. Help them find their inner Xena Warrior Princess.
Reposted from previously published blog.
Tone at the Top,
Values & Ethics,
Leader Worth Following,
For this installment of “Teachers in the Trenches: A Brief Look at Real Leadership Stories,” we share with you a quote about the power of hearing and accepting input from others and the way one leader has been able to both teach and inspire his followers through a consistent, positive message.
“A number of years ago I was a newbie at P&G, and my leader at the time was Mike Graen, director of Information Technology. He had a huge impact on my career for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that he demonstrated what it is to be a true servant leader—always willing and ready to get in the trenches with his team. He had a wonderful way of empowering us to find solutions to complex issues. Mike taught me to push beyond the obvious, and his encouraging way of doing that, and his confidence in my abilities to do so, has given me lasting confidence.
“Mike had an impactful phrase he used, which has become somewhat of a mantra for me, ‘Feedback is a gift.’ Those words I’ve repeated many times, and the meaning is something I’ve taken to heart. That simple phrase taught me that hearing feedback can be incredibly valuable and critical to success. We have to own what we hear from others about the work we do—and we have an obligation to ask questions to gain clarity about that feedback. We must listen without defensiveness and learn to take action based upon what others share with us. Receiving feedback in the right spirit helps us build our toolkits and improve our work.”
-Suzanne Herzog Owens, Chief Product Officer, WhyteSpyder
Leaders worth following know how to provide constructive feedback that is actually motivating and beneficial to their team members—and they have to be open to receiving feedback, as well. Some of the best lessons that leaders can hope to receive come from their followers and peers. It is critical to internalize and act upon this feedback in the spirit it is intended.
Whether you’re leading or following (or both), here are some ways to graciously accept and use feedback as the gift it is meant to be:
- As you’re hearing feedback, take a second to remind yourself that you’re gaining insight for ways you can improve your effectiveness or make something you’re working on better.
- Listen fully and try not to let your brain race to the point that you’re not hearing what is being said. Once the person has shared their thoughts, restate what you believe you were told to make sure you’re on the same page.
- Don’t go on the defensive. Don’t argue. Stop, listen and acknowledge what you’ve been told.
- Ask clarifying questions and inquire about possible solutions for addressing any issues.
- Thank the person who has taken the time to share feedback with you. It might not have been easy for them, but by acknowledging politely and sincerely, you are showing your respect for their assessment—even if you may not fully agree.
- Afterwards, consciously look for examples of your behavior or activities that relate to the criticism and actively address them. If you find ways to improve and take specific action to do so, it’s great to follow up with the person who provided feedback to demonstrate your progress.
At Milestone Leadership, we recognize feedback is a necessity, and like all communication, it’s best when it flows both directions. Building a culture that embraces and cultivates feedback invites trust and meaningful interaction among team members—which leads to innovation, productivity and loyalty.
Living Your Values,
Tone at the Top,
Top Down Leadership,
High Performing Teams,
Values & Ethics,
Leader Worth Following,