Category Archives: Coaching

Crave and NOT Dread Feedback

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

Do we all eat breakfast?  Or Break-fast?  Of course, we do.  As Ken Blanchard puts it “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”  At the heart of any growth and development, feedback is key.  No one is able to grow or develop effectively and efficiently if there is no feedback.  Why?  A simple answer is in blind spots.  Every one of us has our specific sets of blind spots.  Areas that we just can’t see and don’t know about.  This of course means that we cannot work on an area if we don’t know that it is there and requires improvement. 

Simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know.  Take an athlete and his training program.  It is not a random set of actions that he is takes.  Every part of the training program is a result of feedback that is gathered.  Data points and expert advice and so on.  The aim is to achieve a specific goal as effectively and efficiently as possible through targeted programs derived from various sources of feedback. 

This same concept applies to us (mere mortals), in that feedback is essential for our growth.  Feedback is therefore not an option.  It is not optional if you have a desire for growth.  If you have a growth and not a fixed mindset, you will crave feedback and not dread it. 

Let’s face it, we are all human and we do not enjoy being in an uncomfortable position or situation.  Whether you are the giver or the receiver of feedback, it is uncomfortable.  If you are the giver of the feedback, you are probably going to be uncomfortable if the feedback is not taken well, or when there is a pushback or an argument and hurt feelings eventuate from the session.  If you are the receiver of the feedback, you are certainly not comfortable if the feedback is negative or not what you want to hear.  In fact, you might even be defensive and angry that you would receive such a feedback.  Neither, the giver nor the receiver of feedback is achieving what feedback is designed to do. 

Feedback is grounded on the intention to help reinforce or rectify a specific behaviour or action.  It is meant to help us grow.  The heart of feedback is based on the genuine and authentic care for the person.  Hence the most valuable and insightful feedback comes from people who care about you and your growth.

There are three reason why we dread feedback:

  • Perceived as a personal attack on who you are.
  • Reaction that is defensive or retaliatory.
  • Not knowing how to ask questions to get the most out of the feedback.

Perceived as a personal attack on who you are

The first dread element of feedback, it is perceived as a personal attack.  Feedback is not about the person but about the actions.  It is not attacking the person’s being or value system but about the behaviour or actions.   Feedback is not about who but the do.  Feedback is not about the person; it is about the actions.  Therefore, it is important to remember that it is not about the person but about their actions.  It is not a personal attack.  Yeah, I know I have repeated myself three times there but it is important that this simple truth sinks in.  This mindset change will help you to be open and in fact crave feedback. 

When we crave authentic and useful feedback, it will not only help you but also the people around you.  Why is that?  The benefits for you are obvious but for the people around you?  The people around you will know that you are able to distinguish personal from actions.  To be able to be objective and not emotionally driven.  This will lead to a culture that will seek to encourage and help one another to grow and develop constantly and consistently.  The people around you will also appreciate the fact that their feedback is valued and as a team, each member can be co-dependent on one another for growth without feeling uncomfortable about respective vulnerabilities. 

Reaction that is defensive or retaliatory in nature.   

Second aspect of dreading feedback is when the reaction to receiving a feedback is defensive and retaliatory.  No one wants to give feedback to someone who will react defensively and potentially retaliatory when they receive a negative sounding feedback.  I have no doubt that we have encountered one or two of those situations.  In those situations, probably most people will avoid authentic relationship and will find it hard to be in an environment where trust can be developed.  In that context, there will probably not exist any authentic feedback and therefore limited growth or development opportunities.

To receive feedback well, we must be open minded.  We must have the mindset to seek to understand first.  We should not be formulating our defensive stance or listing down all the reasons as to why someone else is to be blamed and so on.  In fact, when you find yourself to be at your most defensive, it is probably the best indicator that you need to listen and listen well.  It is probably an area that is most vulnerable for you and therefore an area that you probably need to work on the most.

To help you to slow down and listen, be mindful of how you are physically feeling.  For most people, they will feel hot, flushed, ears burning red, flames rising from your head, heart beating faster and so on.  All normal responses when we feel threatened.  This is when you could take a deep breath or two and pause.  Then reframing your mind to “seek first to understand” mindset.  Slow down and let your thoughts switch to “This not an attack on who I am but it is about learning how I could improve my actions.”

Not knowing how to ask questions.

A good point to remember is that most people are not well equipped or trained to give feedback.  This leads to feedback that is usually very vague or general.  Sometimes it is sugar coated too much that we can’t really pinpoint the area that requires the improvement.  In order to get the most valuable nuggets out of the feedback, you need to know how to ask questions.  To gather specific details, you will need to ask specific questions.   Bearing in mind that in any feedback session, it is a rather uncomfortable and sometimes tense environment, it is useful to bear in mind that there are certain types of questions to avoid and certain types of questions to ask. 

Good starting point is to ask open and non-threatening questions.   Start with “Tell me more” or “help me to understand this further”.  This opens the discussion and helps you gather more information.  And then you can ask more specific questions to identify specific areas to work on.  Try to avoid questions that might be perceived as confrontational such as “Why did you say that?” or “What makes you think that?”. 

If you want specific information, then you will need to ask specific questions.  For example, a general question like “What feedback have you got for me?”.  This is too open and general and the response could be anything that pops into the person’s mind.  The response will not be feedback but more of an opinion or comment and this will lead to a lot of work to unpack it to get it to a point of real feedback.  It is more effective to ask specific questions in a specific context or area.  For example, if you are interested in improvement around time management, you would say something like this “I would like some feedback on time management?”. 

Ask specific questions for specific feedback.  An example, “What 3 things could I do differently to help me better with time management?”  Ask questions that start with What or How will help you gather specific information to help you move forward.  Try to avoid asking Why questions as why is a reflective and cyclic in nature.  For example, “Why are you late?”  “Well, I forgot to turn on the alarm.”  “Why did you forget to turn on the alarm”  “I was too tired or I don’t know why I forgot”  as you can see it does not lead or move the discussion forward.

Application to bring this home. 

Where are you on the dread to crave feedback scale?  Do you crave or dread feedback?  A simple way to gauge where you stand is to start by asking yourself 3 questions:

  1. What specific skill are you currently developing based on feedback?  If you are taking a long time or can’t answer this question, you know that you have work to do in this area.
  2. Who are the people that you have given permission to give you feedback?  Who are the people that have given you permission to give them feedback?
  3. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your skill or competency growth over the past 3 or 6 months?

If you find yourself in a position unable to answer those 3 questions, do not despair, start today by answering these questions.

  1. Who are the people that I am going to give permission to give me feedback?
  2. What specific questions am I going to ask with regards to specific skills that I want to develop?
  3. What resources can I use to help me be equipped to be an effective giver and receiver of feedback?

As always, please subscribe if you enjoy content like this and leave your feedback or comments as that helps me to be better.

Worst Case Scenario is NOT Trying

Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

Whenever you have a dream or something that you want to do or try out, there is a battle of two voices that starts.  One voice in your head and the other in your heart.  Which one wins?  The one that wins will usually be the one that is the loudest or the one that succumbs.  I know that I am not the only one that encounters these two voices.  They will usually appear when I have an idea or a thought of doing something different or starting something that I have thought off in the past.

The battle begins.  The voice from my head will list down all the amazing things that I could do, new things that I could learn and the fantastic impact that I could be making.  Then the voice from my heart comes in with its counter points of all the things that could go wrong, fears and doubts, barriers to entry and just how miserably I would fail and fall flat on my face.  Which voice wins?

I would say that if I had a counter running, it would be fair to say that the voices of failure and doom from my heart would win hands down.  I have allowed those voices to build up into limiting beliefs.  Now limiting beliefs can be so embedded into you that before you could even think up a new idea, it would shut it down.  The danger of limiting beliefs is that it stops all creativity, innovation and living out your best experiences that you would know that you need because it does not get the chance to start.

It was only the last couple of years, that I had started to address some of my long held limiting beliefs.  As a coach, I have helped many clients to face and overcome their own limiting beliefs, but I had not taken a serious look at my own.  I am someone who loves to try out new things, change things around and enjoys the learning process.  I had deceived myself to think that just because I enjoy all that, I did not have any damaging limiting beliefs.  How wrong I was.  The damage of my limiting beliefs was that it did not allow me to stretch into areas that I had always considered as “not for me” such as painting.  My limiting belief with drawing or painting started when I was in school or more specifically when I failed my art test.  Not surprisingly after that I had “labelled” myself as just not artistic and therefore could not draw or paint or have anything to do with creative stuff.  For the most part its true, I am no Picasso but then again, I could be just the best Picasso I could be by my standards and if I enjoyed the process all the better.

What I have learned over the course of the last couple of years was that I do enjoy painting and that some of my paintings are pretty good by my standard and I am enjoying the process of learning and just having the freedom to paint whatever.  It was an avenue for me to develop an appreciation for colour and nature like I have never done before.  My limiting belief was not damaging but it did prevent me enjoying the beauty and complexity of nature.  This new found hobby has made the various stages of restrictions during the pandemic bearable and even enjoyable at times.

There are many more examples of how limiting beliefs can damage or limit your growth and learning opportunities.  The important step in overcoming them is a simple yet powerful mantra… what is the worst-case scenario?  The power of this question will help you overcome the fear mongering voice of your heart and help the voice in your head to gain traction.

What is the worst-case scenario? List down all the scenarios that you can possibly think off.  I can safely predict that all those scenarios would fall into one of two categories.  The first category is fear based.  All the different types of fear from failure to death.  The second category is pride based.  This is based on self-worth and self-esteem.  What would people think of me?  I am not good enough and all the self-talk that is centered around you and your being.  Regardless of which category your scenario falls into, the heart of the matter is knowing that neither fear nor pride makes you who you are and does not determine your self-worth.  

When you have an idea or a dream or something that you are passionate about, not trying it out is truly the hardest path.  Not trying is the worst-case scenario because it will be a heavy drag on your life.  You will always, at the back of your mind, be wondering, what if.  What if I started this or tried that?  Those are the moments in life that we will regret most if we don’t give it a go.  No one wants to live a life of regret but that will happen if you allow fear of failure or the pride of success stop you.  So, don’t let it.  

Ask yourself:

  • “What is the Worst-case scenario?”  
  • Will I regret it if I don’t do it?  
  • What can I do to overcome some of the barriers?  
  • What do I know now that tells me that I should try it?  
  • What are the negatives that I need to overcome?  
  • What help do I need to make it a reality?
  • What would I gain if I did it?  What would I lose if I did not?
  • What is truly holding me back?

Challenge yourself to just take the first step.  It is never as bad as you imagined.  Maybe, never as great as you imagined.  The difference is you gave it go.  Now that is something you can be proud off.

The 3 Curses of Confidence

There is a lot to be said about confidence.  It is important that we have confidence in who we are and what we can do.  Confidence allows us to accomplish activities, gives us courage to experiment and try out new things and helps us to negotiate challenges by providing us with an inner strength and determination.  We can see people who have confidence and those who lack confidence.  We see it in people depending on whether they are familiar with certain situations or task.  We see how a baker is confident with baking bread but may not be confident when it comes to technology.  Confidence is a product of learned skills and the more you are familiar in a certain area, the most confident you are.  So, the first aspect of confidence is that it can be a learned.  No one is born confident.  We grow in confidence with time and practice.

A Lack of confidence on the other hand is not necessarily a bad thing.  It just means that there is opportunity to learn to be skillful or just to have experiences gained through exposure to a new situation.  For example, a lack of confidence in fixing a bulb is a result of not knowing how to and never doing it before.  Once we learn how to do and give it go, our confidence level will increase and when the need arises again, we would be more confident in performing that task.  

For example, I recently had a need to fix a tap which was wobbly.  I had no clue how to do it.  I could call a plumber, or I could learn how to do it on my own.  I decided to check out the source of all knowledge, YouTube, to see how easy or difficult it was.  I did my research on YouTube and found several easy to follow videos, figured out the tools that I needed and decided to just do it.  I bought all the necessary tools, borrowed some tools, and went about replacing the old with the new tap.  After many minutes of unscrewing and screwing, I was successful in replacing the old with the new tap.  I was so proud of myself.  Afterall, who would have imagined that I could be a plumber in disguise.  Due to that experience, I am now confident that if the need arises again, I can do it.  My confidence in replacing the tap was developed through learning the steps and then applying the knowledge.  Now, I could develop an unrealistic confidence of being able to do more than just replace the tap to major plumbing projects just because of one small success.  That would clearly be unrealistic. An unhealthy level of confidence is where the curse lies.  

The curse of confidence arises when you develop an unhealthy and unrealistic level of confidence.  The 3 pitfalls are:

  1. Stop Learning and Growing.
  2. Never asking for help.
  3. Not taking responsibility.

Stop Learning and Growing.  People with a false sense of confidence believe that they know it all.  When you believe that know everything and that you are right all the time, you are not able to ask yourselves questions or seek feedback in areas to improve and develop further.  There is no one who is perfect.  There is certainly no one who knows everything.  There is no one who is right all the time.  Ask any successful person and they will be the first to admit, how much they do not know and how much more they have to improve.  The heart of our development is the acknowledgement that we have so much so learn and develop and the only way to do that is know which areas to work on.  

Never asking for help.  If you believe that you know it all, you cannot accept the possibility that someone else knows more than you.  You are not able to accept any teaching or training because you believe that you know everything.  You will not be able to ask for help even if you know you need help.  It is just the curse of confidence.  You believe that you are the only one who is able to find the answer and know what to do.  That may be true, but the time and effort spent will be more than just seeking help from an expert.

Not taking responsibility for your mistakes and actions.  This is probably the one that impacts those around you the most.  When mistakes are made, instead of taking responsibility and owning the mistake, the blame game takes over.  Deflecting the problem and directing it at others.  This will not help solve any problems, but it will alienate you from people who could be the source of help that is needed.  Not owning one’s mistake does not demonstrate strength or good leadership but the opposite.  Everyone knows that mistakes will be made.  It is inevitable.  How we own up to the responsibility of the consequences of the mistake is what makes for a good leader.

There is a need for healthy confidence.  It is that balance that is delicate.  How do we achieve that balance?  What’s the cure?

The cure or solution lies in the following:

Allow your trusted advisers the gift of giving you authentic feedback.  Your friends or trusted advisers are gifts to your leadership health check-up.  Similar to seeing a doctor for a medical check-up, getting feedback from your trusted advisers is vital.  Allow or give them permission as they should have your well-being at heart.  The feedback that they are able to provide you will be invaluable.

Self-Awareness is a good radar system.   Exercise self-awareness.  It is a great self-checking system that you have.  Have a meeting with yourself and ask these simple questions:  What have I learned this week or month?  What situation or circumstances have you caught yourself being offended or defensive?  Are the people in my team staying away, avoiding or being hyper careful around me?  Have you noticed any changes in how you react to situations differently (negatively) than the past?

In a nutshell, confidence is essential but over-confidence is a curse and a stumbling block.  Keep yourself in check frequently and consistently.  Be aware of the red flags of your over-confidence zone.  Allow your trusted advisers to give you feedback and use your self-awareness radar to never stop learning and self-check up on your leadership through frequently seeking feedback.

3 killers of effective feedback

In the workplace, one of the essential management tools to develop an individual is the effective use of feedback.  Feedback is a great tool to help individuals identify and take steps to improve their skills and competencies.  As individuals we know that we need to continuously improve, develop skills and competencies for us to be effective in not just our current role but also future roles.  Therefore, if feedback is one of the essential tools, why is it that people shun it or view feedback through a negative perspective?

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

There are many reasons as to why feedback is viewed negatively, these are just some of the top 3:

  1. Bad past experiences.  You had received feedback, which was negative, was vague and left you feeling confused and probably hurt.  The worse part of it, you had no idea what to do about it.  You did not know specifically what areas to work on and there was no assistance given to improve. Some bad experiences could be a result of feedback which was emotionally driven rather than objective and constructive in nature.
  2. Comments or opinions disguised as feedback.  Often, we are confused between hearing opinions or comments from people and placing those into the feedback category.  Feedback is distinctly different from opinions or thoughts or comments.  Opinions or thoughts are just that.  It is someone’s perspective and interpretation of an action or situation.  It is their version of the “story” vs. fact.
  3. Superficial feedback.  Feedback that only gives you high level statements that are not helpful to get to the heart of the issue for real action items and development to take place.  A common example of a superficial feedback is “Good work!” or “You need to improve in your communication skills.”  What does it really mean?  If the feedback is vague or too generic, it is hard to know how to put the right development plan in place.

Regardless of the above reasons, feedback is a skill that is learned.  Essentially there are 4 key elements to effective feedback, and they are:

  1. Specific:  Feedback needs to be specific and based on an observable action or behaviour.  Specificity helps to zoom into the action or behaviour that needs to be reinforced or rectified.  It is impossible to develop a competency without breaking it down to specific areas.
  2. Impact:  Succinctly explain what the action or behaviour made you think or feel.  what was the implication or impact to me?  This will help put the specific observable action into your perspective.  You can only speak for yourself so ensure that it is your perspective of the impact and not others.
  3. Acknowledgement:  This portion is to gain understanding as to whether what you have observed is acknowledged or identifiable by the person.  Once we can agree on the specific area, then we are able to move to the final step.  Acknowledgement and agreement is an essential step as this helps both the giver and the receiver of the feedback to understand, discuss and take the next steps.
  4. Joint Action:  This is key to enabling any feedback to take concrete steps to improvement or development.  It is a joint action plan as no one can improve on their own.  As a manager, you have the responsibility to help your direct reports to improve, develop and support their development plans.  One of the most impactful activity any manager can perform is to support your team in their efforts to improve.

Let us put this into a simple scenario. 

Manager:  I noticed that during your presentation you were moving around the stage a fair bit which was distracting to me and made feel nervous for you.  What do you think? 

Direct Report:  Yeah you are right, I was nervous and so pacing around the stage was my way of dealing with it.  I am not sure what I can do to manage my nerves.

Manager:  thank you for openly sharing that with me.  Let us think about some tactics that we could use to help you manage that and put a plan in place.

As you can see in the simple example above, it is rather easy to put 4 elements into any conversation but it will take preparation on the part of the giver of the feedback to be clear and succinct with the intention of enabling the feedback to its desired outcome.  The giver of the feedback must be willing to provide the support and help required which is the key to unlocking the effectiveness of any feedback.

To help you overcome the 3 killers of effective feedback, you will need to:

  1. Change your perspective around feedback.  No matter what your previous experiences are, the first step to being a better giver and receiver of feedback is to know that feedback is.  The intent or desired outcome of any feedback is to either reinforce or rectify a specific behaviour.  The process to achieving that outcome requires clarity and a support structure as an enabler.
  2. Learn what elements are required for effective feedback.  Nothing is preventing you from learning how to be an effective feedback giver and receiver.  There are countless books, papers, audiobooks, podcasts and so on where you learn and broaden your knowledge around not just this subject but any subject.
  3. Practice the key elements of effective feedback.  Just like any other skill, it needs to be practiced.  Its uncomfortable and unnatural at the start but you will over time figure out your own style and will become a natural part of your management toolkit.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”  Ken Blanchard.  Just like the importance of breakfast, feedback is the key to any growth journey.

Please subscribe to enjoy these short articles on growth and development to get the week going.

3 ways to be a Great Follower

There is so much expectation and pressure on every one of us to be leaders.  In every arena, leaders are admired and respected and for the most part that is appropriate.  However, we have all experienced or know of leaders who have disappointed, misused their position and broke the trust of those who follow. 

I know that each of us aspire to be great leaders.  Leading people with charisma, integrity, and being inspirational and all things that are admired.  However, let’s face it, not every leader today has those qualities and not many are successful in that role.  There is one leadership role that we each play and that is to be the leader in our own lives.  We need to lead ourselves by continuously learning, developing, building our capabilities and skills with an intention to make a difference with the people that we do have in our circle.  We don’t need to be “in a leadership” position before we can make a positively impact on someone’s life.

There is one role that we all have and that is to be a follower.  No matter what level of leadership you are in, you are a follower of some kind.  The term follower has somewhat been turned into a taboo word.  A word that almost denotes that you are not as important or as good. 

In today’s “everyone must aspire to be a leader” culture, we have forgotten the importance and critical role that followers play.  If everyone is a leader, who are they leading?  Imagine the chaos in the workplace if everyone is a leader at the same time playing the same role.  We have undermined the role of a follower and in fact made it into a taboo word that only someone who is “not good enough” to be leader naturally falls into the “follower” role.

I would like to change that perspective and identify 3 key areas that makes for a great follower.  Yes, not just a follower but a great follower.  Before we do that, I want to demystify the word follower.  A follower is someone who follows a leader, but a follower is not someone who has a lower IQ, less skills or lower competencies but different set of competencies that might not fall into the leadership category of competencies.  In fact, whether you are leader, or a follower depends on the situation, roles to be played, expertise or skills and environment.  For example, you could be a great business leader but if you are in the jungle and needs to survive, you might be best suited to be a follower of a someone who knows how to survive in the jungle.

A great follower should have these attributes:

  1. Great individual contributor.  He has his specialize set of competencies, performs his role well, works well with others and is well respected.  He knows that he is competent in the area that he is working on, loves what he does and does it well.
  2. Confident and adaptable.  He is confident in his own abilities, has strong sets of values that he lives and works by and is therefore comfortable with change, thinking out of the box and is adaptable.  In today’s ever-changing landscape, to have a follower that is adaptable is an enormous asset for any leader and organization.
  3. Challenges constructively.  In any discussion or brainstorming session, there is a great need for people to think out of the box, to share perspective that not tunneled by the organization’s culture, to help the leader by challenging assumptions and cultural norms all with the purpose of getting the best possible solutions for any problems.  Followers are not to just blindly follow whatever the leader decides but to follow with commitment and conviction and that can only occur if the solution is agreed upon and is in alignment with the company’s values and goals.

Think about the role that you are playing today.  Are you a leader?  Are you a follower?  Are you a leader/follower?  I dare say that for most of us we are in the hybrid role of leader/follower.  We are leaders in a certain area but are followers in certain situations.  To be the best leader/follower is to understand and value the role of the follower.  If we only value the leader, there is a misalignment in the essential role that a great follower would play.  In fact, the world has more “followers” than leaders.  I know that in my “leader” role, I love to have great followers which those 3 attributes as mentioned above.  It is challenging but extremely rewarding when the team is performing at its best level.  That happens when we are comfortable with playing the most appropriate roles depending on the situation.