Adaptive Leadership: Giving Feedback you don’t want to, but need to.

Effective leadership (like coaching) is about creating awareness for others. Helping them see something that will create value for them. Feedback has become a term that most leaders and their subordinates have confused with “coaching”. Giving Feedback is not coaching. Feedback is an invaluable tool and skill that when used correctly can literally change the trajectory of a person or business. And it should always come with implicit or explicit permission and trust from the person receiving it.

Feedback is the means to an end and not the end itself. Just because you deliver some feedback or information to another doesn’t mean that action will follow. Great feedback can help the other person know how your perspective is grounded in observation and data. Data is not necessarily truth and that becomes a real part of where the breakdown in feedback begins. If you treat it as truth to be bestowed rather than information to inform the other person’s awareness then you have taken their power away right from the start.

It is important you have the relationship and the awareness of the goals and values of the other person in mind. This becomes very important because it establishes relevance and power for what you have to say. You are grounded in their aspirations and abilities. You know their dreams and can see how giving them a “snapshot” or reflection could advance their agenda first. The goal is to help them see what their choices are and not telling them what to make of it. They own the interpretation and decisions.

You must trust that people, when supported in a conversation, can make a decision. Trusting another person to take responsibility for their own decisions is not easily done by a majority of corporate managers and leaders. I know this to be true because I have years of experience working in this environment and working with adults in these systems. Managers and leaders must be adaptive in nature to the situation. Effective feedback in its truest value is relevant to situational and aspirational points in a person’s life and career moments.

When we don’t trust someone to find their own answers…what does that mean? It could mean a host of things on the surface. It may be that we don’t understand how powerful it is to let someone “stew in their own juices”. We don’t like to be present during internal conflict or struggle. Let’s get on with it and fix it is often our tactic. Make it better with a bandaid of something less than complete candor. What if the feedback is so difficult that the person might get mad, become emotional, or worse yet lose their sense of identity? What if it questions the very essence of how they see themselves in their work and life?

There might actually some very subtle issues going on with person giving the feedback that you may have not thought about. The following could be a partial list of questions for leaders to contemplate on before holding a conversation.

  • Are you so programmed and gripped by the idea that as a manager and leader that you should have “THE ANSWER”?
  • Is it possible that the outcome is something you may not have any control over?
  • Do you really have grounded information and perspective or is it really just hearsay and opinion based on feelings?
  • What is your real commitment to the “other” that you are about to give feedback to?
  • When you don’t hold the conversation and delay it, what are you waiting for and why are you conflicted?
  • Lastly, do you trust yourself and can you take of ownership the information and your problems?

Again, like in my last post this is all connected to reinforcing a culture of being responsible. You have the opportunity to be a role mode and ambassador for responsibility. When you step up and give feedback in a timely and grounded fashion you are being an Adaptive Leader. Adaptive Leadership doesn’t know what is on the other side of a feedback session and is open to the feedback you might receive in turn. You trust yourself to be who you need to be for that person and to stay anchored in your commitment to them. Regardless if you know the answers.

If you trust someone to be responsible they will act accordingly. It is well worth the risk to allow someone to take your expectations of them and own their pathway to the end result. A key take away on this post on Adaptive Leadership could stated simply by the following sentence. When we don’t trust ourselves we find it very difficult to trust others. Letting go of the result and living in the moment with the process requires a lot of adaptation and courage. It is a choice that is at the core of being an Adaptive Leader.

Vision and trusting the future to unfold for those you lead is not always easy. It is a different way of being for many who have people leadership responsibilities. Your intentions must be born from a clear sense of expectations not only of others, but of you most of all. When you don’t hold difficult or challenging conversations you must question your real commitment to the other person. Feedback really is not about them it is about you. Step in, let go, and let it flow.

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