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.